Wednesday, August 7, 2013

School Ka-Boom!

 
Our district's public school population is exploding to critical levels, and I'm about to contribute to this crisis by sending it more students from my household. No, I haven't gone crazy and given up on home-schooling my four-year-old, but my two teenage step-children will be moving in soon. (I know, that's crazier!). They have been primarily living with their mother in Maryland since their parents divorced and shared custody during their infant years. Though they had their school beginnings in Waldorf education, they later transferred to Maryland public schools in adolescence, and that transition was not a great success. So, this is just one of the reasons why the decision was made  for them to move in with us for the next school year. We have pretty good schools in Virginia, and ALL our local high schools regularly make the Newsweek Top 100 High Schools List.  Here our kids may get a second chance.

Once I got past the initial "yikes" reaction at the total life change I face before me, I realized that my relationship with the public schools is about to be restarted anew after the last fiasco with my then 3-year-old son. And now with the current population growth, I'm not sure what to expect for our two older kids.

Even though hundreds of millions of dollars have recently been spent on projecting populations and building new schools, these modern school structures are already housing relocatable trailers that are being used as classrooms. In my opinion, the only thing worse than getting an education in some of today's prison-like school buildings (I worked in one for 12 years, believe me I know) is getting an education in a trailer classroom! A dear friend and teacher colleague, who is now deceased, worked tirelessly to keep a flower garden in the front entrance of that dark building in order to soften its image. Incidentally, you can see her working on it in the photo if you click on the link.

In the book I'm reading, Home Grown Kids, Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore describe the success of an experimental school program they observed in Melbourne, Australia, where the city was renting houses near the children's homes instead of building schools for care centers.

"The different rooms readily adapted to smaller groups and more family-like atmosphere. As much as possible, the ideal program and activities should resemble a good mother's home program- involvement in homemaking activities, including gardening and other useful work; nature experieces; rest; and freedom from academic pressures."

This got me thinking, wouldn't it be a dream of our school system simply rented homes to solve the overcrowding issue in schools rather than spend time and money on bad costly solutions?  Yes, it would be a dream.

Then I woke up and I recalled my friend, EWD, who for many years was a veteran teacher in our school system's Project Pathways. This is a 45-day intervention program designed to meet the immediate emotional, instructional, and developmental needs of middle school students who often have a history of repeated and serious disruptive behaviors and anger management problems.

Unfortunately for all, this program was housed in a trailer classroom, and the teachers were obligated to focus on academics and ensure that no learning was lost in the students' temporary 45-day absence from the school building. In addition to my friend EWD and another teacher, many school professionals were heavily involved with these kids,  who were receiving costly tax-subsidized services from handsomely paid counselors, psychologists, social workers and what have you.

Needless to say, my friend suffered hellish experiences with most of the students in that program. Looking back in the rear-view mirror of her retirement, she has expressed to me that she doubts any of them ever really turned around as a result of being in the program. Sadly, their home situations were usually too broken and too chaotic, and no "school" program alone could have saved them.

Given what I know about EWD's blessed gifts as a citizen, mother, and educator, plus what I now know about home-schooling and "unschooling," this I can say for sure: If this Pathways Program were located in a warm neighborhood house setting, and if my friend was given the chance to roll up her sleeves and teach these kids with tough love how to organize a home-school experience in the spirit of the Moores' philosophy, she would definitely have had a much better chance of making a more positive impact on these students' lives and characters than any academic program ever could... singlehandedly!

Only two days ago I ran into another friend and former colleague who is still teaching at the school where EWD and I once worked. When I asked her how things were going in the public schools, she bowed her head and gave me a short answer. "It sucks." She didn't have to elaborate. I knew exactly why this truly gifted teacher felt the way she did. There simply is no love left in public education today. There is no real respect for the children in the "system." This is where American schools primarily fail teachers, students, and parents alike. This is where countries like Finland finally got it right as it continues to rank first worldwide in education, while the US steadily slips lower and lower in the world as more and more scared American parents choose to join the home-school movement. Take a minute to click on the links. The facts are astonishing.

"The number of home-schooled children in the country has increased by 75 percent since 1999, according to a report in Education News. The report also says that achievement gaps related to the income levels, ethnicities and sex of home-school students are not apparent in homeschooling environments."

This should be breaking news, folks!

But, alas! It's not.

Stay tuned... to the School Revolution!


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You write:

"...If this Pathways Program were located in a warm neighborhood house setting, and if my friend was given the chance to roll up her sleeves and teach these kids with tough love how to organize a home-school experience in the spirit of the Moores' philosophy, she would definitely have had a much better chance of making a more positive impact on these students' lives and characters ..."

In other words, if you replace their crap actual home experience with a good home-like school experience?

Yeah, maybe that'd work.

But you'd still have to send them home to get screwed up every day.

Seems like a long row to hoe.

Ruby Justice said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for reading.

I don't imagine a good home-like experience can "REPLACE their crap actual home experience," but it might give them an alternative perspective at the possibilities in life.

Oftentimes in the public schools where I taught, I've had kids from broken homes who saw school as a refuge and excelled in academics and other activities in order to escape their status quo. If that can happen in traditional public schools, it will surely happen even more in a home-like school.