David O’Rourke proposed an interesting activity at a meeting I attended yesterday. We’re focusing on our students who drop out, specifically those who are Native American because they are dropping out at a significantly higher rate than our other students. David is leading our three-district initiative.
Yesterday he asked us to take two minutes to think about one student who is failing two or more subjects and who’s unlikely to graduate. Imagine what he may need to get him there. Well, I’ve taken more than two minutes to think about it because I haven’t stopped yet.
It brings me back to this idea of one high school fits all again. Why? Because when I imagine what every student needs to stay in school, it’s success. She needs to find success in our school that’s so compelling it makes her want to return every day. It doesn’t have to be success at everything, but at something, at anything.
Let me use an example. When I attended elementary and middle school, I was in most of my classes with Leslie Horn. Leslie was smarter than me. She always did better than I did on every assignment, in every class. As a child thinks, I concluded that she was smarter than me, plain and simple. I don’t remember being upset about it, because I also knew that I was smarter than Ronnie B. Probably just about every kid could look to his right and see someone who was smarter and to her left and see someone who wasn’t. But what about the kid at the end? That’s the student we lose.
We need to provide lots of different opportunities to succeed that result in a diploma. Not just one way.
When Leslie and Ronnie and I got to high school, we went in different directions. Leslie went into the Honors courses; I went into the Business courses and Ronnie B. went into vocational courses. Each of us got to excel at something, got to stop comparing, got to find our own success. I remember being surprised when I won a DECA competition; just as Ronnie B. may have been surprised to find out he was terrific at fixing cars. But we got to find out. We got to take different routes and isn’t that what the rest of our lives is all about? When we enter the work force, we go in the direction of whatever it is we’re best at—I’m not singing and dancing on Broadway for a reason. And I love my job, because every day I get to follow my passion, education. With my students who struggle the most, all they get to do at our high school is more of what they struggle with, through remediation and AIS and doubling up on subjects they can’t pass.
Why does everyone have to get out of high school in the same way? Who decided that’s the only way that’s worthy? I want a school where we can help our students determine their strengths and do more of what they’re good at, whatever it may be. And I want to help them figure out what that is instead of showing them where they fall short.