During the first week of advisory, I informally polled each of my 14 advisees: What is the most important quality that a school should possess? I was heartened to hear that, for the most part, their answers matched exactly what we have been trying to accomplish for the past 7 years at my small high school.
“When your teachers care about you.”
“I think it’s important for us to be able to talk to our teachers.”
“It’s important that we feel like real people.”
“A school should be a comfortable place for students; they should feel at home.”
We are now in the second year of our federal 21st Century Learning Community grant. Part of our grantee responsibility is to ensure that a certain percentage of our student body is regularly participating in quality after-school programming. The underlying philosophy is that students who are engaged after school are more likely to be engaged during the school day, less likely to drop out of school, and less likely to get into trouble on the streets.
We haven’t had too tough a time with the quality part. Once again we’ve unveiled an incredible menu of options, including darkroom photography, culinary arts, a girls literary activism project, a social media project, and an investigation into pop culture. I know I’m getting old, but these things seem very cool to me. Maybe that’s the problem.
It’s the participation part that continues to throw us for a loop.It was Friday afternoon at 4:30 and I was wrapping my week up. As Friday is our weekly early release day, the kids had been dismissed hours ago. And yet there they were: that same table of 10-12 kids who were socializing, enjoying themselves, feeling…at home. To my chagrin, they weren’t taking advantage of all the “cool” after-school activities that we have worked so hard to create for them. In fact, they roll their eyes and laugh when I suggest that they should get involved. These kids are weird, I often think to myself.
But this is what we have created. A school in which people care about eachother, where kids are comfortable talking to their teachers, where they feel at home.
Maybe that’s enough. These kids that hang around are safe, they aren’t doing anything illegal, they are enjoying each others company, and they are being respectful. We can see them, and they know it. They are choosing to be cared for on some strange level, not by participating in an after-school activity, but by simply being seen by the teachers and staff who care an awful lot about them.
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