Following yesterday’s release of North Carolina’s latest A-F school grades—which, for the second year in a row, were largely a reflection of how poor or wealthy a school’s students are—education blogger James Hogan wrote about his own wife’s 15 year career at a D-rated elementary school in Iredell County.
Writing about the students Hogan’s wife teaches, he writes:
Her students have it rough. Many of them don’t get to sleep on beds. Their bikes are regularly stolen. Their fathers aren’t always around. Whenever my wife invites students to share what they did over the weekend at the beginning of class, she often hears stories about parents or siblings who were arrested. Or shot.
Several years ago, I stopped by my wife’s classroom to drop something off with her that she’d forgotten. After I left, one of her students raised his hand and asked who the man was who’d just visited their classroom.
“He’s my husband,” she replied. “Mr. Hogan.”
“Do he beat you?” the student asked.
Do he beat you? It was an honest question, asked in earnest by a kid who’d seen plenty of domestic violence in his life. And that question said a lot about the baggage this particular student—and so many of his peers—brings to class every day.
Despite the challenges that Hogan’s wife’s students face outside of the classroom, her school exceeded the state’s growth expectations for students’ standardized test scores. Teachers there, it appears, were making a difference.
Here are some examples of her school’s approach to making sure at-risk youth don’t fall through the cracks toward failure:
This year, my wife’s principal has created a school-wide theme called “Operation Possible.” The idea is that, beginning on Day 1, students are pushed to consider what comes at the end of their education. What jobs would they like to work? Where might they want to live? What are their dreams?
The entire faculty has embraced the concept. Several of them are coming to school dressed like doctors and nurses (operation possible, get it?), ready to diagnose students’ passions and enable them to follow them.
One of the administrators runs a leadership program that identifies students on the brink who could use extra one-on-one mentoring. They’re called ambassadors, and they form an exclusive club. The school provides them with collared shirts and ties (there’s a female group starting this year), and they lead visitors on tours, work with younger students, and learn from career professionals about making good choices in life.
The ambassador program has demonstrated great success, keeping kids out of trouble, and reaping the reward of what an investment in a troubled young person’s life can produce.
Other faculty have shown enormous initiative over the summer. One noticed her students’ extra energy distracted them from learning, so she wrote a grant and earned funding to buy standing desks, stability ball chairs, and other furniture that allowed students to work out their kinetic buildups and still stay focused.
Another teacher, whose students attend classes in a mobile unit (did I mention my wife’s school, which was expanded in the last five years, is overcrowded?), grew tired of her students getting soaked on rainy days during the walk to the main building. So, she wrote and earned a nearly $20,000 grant that will help build a covered walkway between the buildings.
When schools receive D or F grades, they don’t get extra resources to make sure students can do better. Teachers don’t get extra help either. The school has to send a letter home to parents simply stating that their children’s school got a failing grade—and that’s it.
Fortunately for Hogan’s wife’s school, their students’ parents can learn more about what that D grade really represents through his writings. Otherwise, they might not know the full story.