Community Support Leads to A Quality Education

Reading Endre’s previous article on what is a quality high school had me thinking back on my own experience. I’ve mentioned before that my school district was well mixed, urban/suburban, and on the lower side general academic achievement; nothing to be particularly proud of, but it definitely could have been worse. We were fortunate enough to have resources like musical instruments, a theatre department, enough lab materials for each class to share, gym class equipment, and relatively updated textbooks. Walking into the building, you’d expect a well-functioning, happy learning environment.

And for the most part it was, for the people who wanted to be there and knew how to make the most of our limited, but adequate resources. But, again, motivation was the biggest hurdle that most students (and some faculty members) had to get over; a lot of students just weren’t motivated enough to care. And I think this is a big part the whole education experience that shouldn’t be overlooked – how to create a community that encourages an importance on education, while still making it enjoyable for everyone involved.

If this problem had a simple solution we wouldn’t have any issues with any educational departments anywhere.  But the changes need to start in the community.

Let’s take for example my high school, which was affected by NCLB because of poor test results, and in my senior year we had a complete overhaul of how our school day was divided.  The entire student body was split up into 6 areas of interest/concentration, and apart from our required core courses, we had to choose our classes based on those small “communities” we were placed in: performance arts, business, visual arts, engineering, health and science, and law/criminal justice; the Small Learning Communities system, which was almost like fulfilling a college major.  I think the idea behind this change was to keep students interested in their classes and hoping that their grades would reflect this.  But with the way things were scheduled, it made it difficult for say, a visual arts student to take a particular health-science elective that may have sounded interesting.  For the most part, students were stuck with a curriculum filled with classes based in one medium, which made classes seem disproportionately challenging, and limiting in regards to what every student had a chance to learn. But it wouldn’t matter because each student would be (in theory) churning out good grades to report, which was the most important thing when it came to getting funding.

Again, since it was in my senior year, I was only subjected to this new system for a short while, and I don’t really know how things ended up in subsequent years since it was beyond my caring (an error on my part, since I do live in the community).  But after browsing the school website for a little bit, it seems like they did away with the communities and went back to allowing students to pick electives on their own.

But one thing potential positive that came out of the Learning Communities overhaul was a once a week time period for our “home” group – 12 to 16 students for every teacher in the building to sit down and talk about whatever they needed, from academics, to future plans, to stress, or whatever else they thought necessary.  I never got particularly close with my “home” teacher, since it was only for one year and I was about to graduate, but if that kind of support system was established in my freshman year, I think it would have been extremely beneficial.  We still had school guidance counselors, 4 that split the entire student body, but the only time most students met with them was to change their schedule, or when applying to college.  Having a specified time every week for each student to meet up with a teacher, and not necessarily one they had for academics, was a good potential mentoring system that could have worked in favor of those students who may not have had the most supportive home life, or love of school.

I believe that making sure every single student feels like they aren’t just another face in the classroom is a big deal when it comes to motivation.  The idea that there is at least one person in that building who knows about you, your progress, and your goals on a regular basis is important and helpful.  Of course, it does place an additional load of the teachers who have to worry about their academic students’ progress as well, but I’d like to think that those who sign up to be educators are in it for more than just their paycheck.  They’d want to see students grow and succeed in every possibly way, including those they don’t teach.

So whether a student came from the affluent suburban neighborhood, or the run-down borough, everyone would have had a support system to cheer them on through their academic journey, and hopefully find a better chance at the future.

What do you guys think?  Is the “small communities” method something that works?  Have you heard of any other districts that tried this method successfully?

Tracey Woodard
Tracey Woodard
tracey.woodard@franklinfound.org

<p>Our Senior contributor Tracey Woodard graduated in 2010 from Bucknell University with a BA in English – Creative Writing and Theater. An advid believer in the importance of public school education, she uses a mix of personal and learned experiences to express her thoughts on today’s most pressing education issues. She currently resides just outside of Philadelphia, PA.</p>

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