John Lewis, civil rights leader, has a message for educators. ”When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” About half of our students do not find school to be a successful experience. Half of those students do not graduate. The recent passing of Representative John Lewis reminds us that it is time to do something about it.
Schools do need to change and now is a good time to do it. Before we talk about the why and how, let’s take a look at the nightmarish coronavirus and how it’s forcing schools to change. No doubt, the toughest decision superintendents and school boards have to make is when and how to open.
The whole issue, of course, rests on, “Is it safe to open?” This is no time to play Russian roulette. There are many solutions being tossed about and no one is better than the next. The one chosen will be the one that is safest for students and staff.
There are some parents who won’t send their kids back no matter what just due to the risk COVID-19 poses on everyone. There are also some parents who feel that learning virtually isn’t such a bad idea for their children. Let’s say this group represents 10% of our student population who choose to stay home and learn virtually. What about the other 90%?
Every educator wants their students to find learning meaningful and enjoyable. We want them to come back for more. In any given school, about one-third of our students earn A’s and B’s. Another third earns C’s and another third earns D’s and F’s. Let’s be positive and say that 40% of our kids are in the A and B range.
As we consider what to do with our students and if we have 10% who wish to stay home and 40% who do well in school regardless of what program or school they are in, what can we do to accommodate the other 50%?
One thing that teacher trainers failed to teach us is that "IF WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS NOT WORKING, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT." Traditional schools, charter and alternative schools, are good for some students but not all students. These schools are more alike than different. They certainly fulfill a need and we have more kids graduating because of them but we still have 50% of our students receiving a C or below-average grade. This is not good. It means that this population is not having a successful learning experience in schools. If we can change for COVID-19 to make schools safer, let’s continue that same stream of thought and think about how we can make schools more meaningful for all students.
Let’s dream a little bit. How about a school where there are no requirements? How about a school where a student could spend most of the day in art, or math or taking apart a car? How about a school where there are no letter grades? How about an entirely nongraded K-12 school? How about a school that is open on weekends? How about a school where students choose their advisors? How about a school where there are no bells? How about a school where kids can learn to read and do math and study science just by playing basketball? How about a school where elementary kids are taking classes with middle school age kids and high schoolers are teaching third grade? How about a school where learning occurs 365 days a year and uses the community as a classroom?
If our goal is to have all kids enjoy learning and graduate, what can we do? One thing we could do is to create truly different schools. If we had truly different schools built around the needs of our kids and how they learn, 100% of our kids would stay in school and want more learning. Why? Learning, if done right, is fun.
How would you do this? It’s been my experience that in most districts you have a cadre of teachers who are willing to try something new and different. You also have a cadre of parents who are looking for ways to get their kids excited about school. This is a good place to start. Have these teachers and parents begin meeting to plan the kind of school that will help kids find more success. Just let them go. Let them stretch their creative limits. Let them make overnight changes. One thing they need to remember, if it looks like it is already happening in today’s schools, take a different path. We’ve already been there.
So, why not begin changing schools today? COVID-19 is forcing us to do it anyway. Why resort to rearview mirror ideas that have failed kids? LET’S DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT! By the way, those crazy ideas I mentioned earlier aren’t so crazy. I taught in a school that incorporated all of them and about 60 more. The school worked. Our graduation rate was 100%. Kids were excited about learning.
Remember what John Lewis said, “When we see something that is not right, not fair, not just, we have a moral obligation to do something about it.”
Riddle: Which is faster, hot or cold? (Answer: hot, because you can catch cold.) Time is slipping by faster and faster. It’s a good time to catch our breath and say, “We can help all kids enjoy school. Let’s start today. Let’s just do something different."
Doing something different is what the 100% graduation rate is all about. Let’s create different schools today. Thanks to Hesch Construction and No. 1 Ladies Advocacy for supporting the 100% movement.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.