Politics. Policy. Finance. Standards-based accountability. NCLB. ESSA.
Too often, this blog is about stuff — the external influences on schools, teachers and ultimately, students — that is a distraction and, at its worst, a detriment to the essence of education.
That’s why I’m so proud to be a part of School News Network and the remarkable team we’ve pulled together to cover the stories of our schools. Their focus is different, and it’s on target.
Jordan. William and Chloe. Jarad. Bozena. Robert.
They are what SNN is all about, why it’s important, and why it is absolutely essential that we tell these stories.
When we first met Jordan Lovett, reporter Erin Albanese described her as “a busy 17-year-old … a talented runner and vocalist (who) works part time at Culver’s restaurant. She is taking on the role of Gingy the gingerbread man in the high-school musical “Shrek,” and she likes tinkering with tools in robotics class. She has a 3.5 grade-point average, and her slate of classes this semester includes pre-calculus and college English.”
Jordan sounded like many motivated and successful high school students until we learned she was, for all intents and purposes, homeless, moving from place to place after evictions and other disruptions far too familiar for the 38 percent of Godfrey Lee families living in poverty and 89 percent who qualify for free and reduced lunch.
Jordan graduated from Godfrey Lee and is in college, struggling a bit with school and making relationships with a different group of people.
William and Chloe are kids in Lowell who are making the transition from elementary to middle school. “In fifth grade we were the kings of the school,” William said of Lowell’s Beach Elementary. “When we got here (Lowell Middle School), we were measly peasants.”
Transition points — elementary to middle, middle to high, and high school to college — are among the most difficult times for students.
“You’ve got to be way more mature and find classes yourself,” Lowell Middle School student Chloe Sandborn said of the transition from elementary to middle school. “You can’t just break down crying in the middle of the hallway. Well you could, but that might be embarrassing.”
Most all students succeed with these transitions, but many need help, because all these points are where they are challenged, forced outside of their comfort zone and, sometimes, begin to lose their enthusiasm for school.
Jared Walejewski is a Rockford senior who battled depression as a high school freshman who had just made that transition from middle to high school. “I was so lonely,” the Rockford High School senior recalled of his depression as a freshman, when he’d sit for hours in his basement in front of a computer. “I isolated myself. … I just felt alone.” Today, he is confident and successful, so much so that he shared his challenges with a high school assembly earlier this year.
Bozena Sneller is a chatty student with blue-streaked hair who helped to lead State Superintendent Brian Whiston on a tour of the Northview High School Deaf and Hard of Hearing program. She wanted the new state superintendent to know how supportive the staff has been as she has learned to sign since middle school. “They don’t judge you,” Bozena said. “Just because we’re deaf doesn’t mean we can’t do what other people do.”
We met Robert Brant during a meeting with Shelley Bauer, a Cedar Springs teen parent educator. It was an exciting meeting, as Robert told Bauer he could now begin visiting his nearly 2-year-old son by an estranged former girlfriend.
“How do you feel about this?” Bauer askedhim eagerly in her office at New Beginnings, an alternative high school. “This is exciting! I’m ready to take on that challenge,” said Robert, a senior. I really want to see happiness in him, knowing in the future his father was there for him.”
The good news didn’t stop there. Robert had also received approval for $5,500 in financial aid at Grand Rapids Community College, just as he was about to graduate from New Beginnings.
These are the real stories of education, and with the end of school upon us, it seemed appropriate to refocus on what is really important. You can get the usual “stuff” of this blog anywhere. I write it to provide some context for the rest of the stories you find in SNN.
Those stories — the experiences of Jordan, of William and Chloe, Jarad, Bozena and Robert — are stories you can’t get anywhere except School News Network. They’re what our remarkable system of education is all about: students who are overcoming challenges, big and small, extraordinary and routine, to become the men and women who will contribute to our communities in the future.
Thank you for reading.