Thursday, August 29, 2013

Does school still mean something?

School starts Tuesday in my district.

As I look forward to Tuesday, I wonder does school really have a place anymore?

After all, students can learn online 24 hours a day.

I see billboards advertising the virtues of virtual schools as I drive to work.

Many districts in Michigan have opened their borders and accept students from different communities.

So is the local public school still something that is important?

There is a passage in Ivan Doig's book The Whistling Season that has fascinated me and stuck with me since the day I read it many years ago.

Out beyond the play area, there were round rims of shadow on the patch of prairie where the horses we rode to school had eaten the grass down in circles around their picket stake . . 
Forever and a day could go by and that feeling will never leave me. Of knowing, in that instant, the central power of that country school in our lives.
Everyone I could think of had something at stake in that school.
We all answered, with some part of our lives, to the pull of this small knoll of prospect, this isolated square of school ground.

Do schools still have that "central power?"

Do community schools still mean something in the year 2013?

I think they do.

As I sit on this Thursday afternoon in my office, the girls high school swim and dive team is competing in its first meet of the season.

The Novi HS football team plays its first game tonight.

Teachers have been in all week working with each other, talking about lesson plans and students.

The high school marching band had its camp over three weeks ago.

Parents visited our elementary schools last night to meet teachers and talk to principals.

Our cooks and bus drivers and maintenance staff have spent countless hours getting our schools ready for the start of another school year.

Even with all of this activity I still ask myself, do schools still mean something? Do schools still ask of people to give something? Do schools still pull communities forward?

Again, I answer yes!

Schools connect a community. Teachers connect with students. Students connect with adults outside of their family. A love of learning and a passion for learning are passed on from one generation to another. Students begin to see, through the lives of the people in their school, that there are things to be passionate about.

For a student, schools become places where they learn that they are important. The adults in a school communicate to the students who attend that they matter. Teachers who take an interest in a student help that student understand that they are important.

Schools create places where students learn to fit in. Some students fit in with the athletic teams, others in the band. Some students connect through Quiz Bowl or Student Council or Safety Patrol. In community schools places are created and opportunities are presented for students to learn life lessons by connecting in a club or school activity.

Oh schools can falter. Schools can be places where students are bored or where they feel bullied or ignored or left out.

But community schools work hard to be places where students understand that they have a place, they have an opportunity to learn, and that they have adults who care about them.

Schools do mean something.

As this school year starts in my community, my hope is that we can continue to make schools mean something to every student who attends and to every family who trusts us enough to send us their children.

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