This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
It’s getting to be the end of the school year and that means two things for me: reflection and celebration.
Reflecting on the past year, I am struck by the theme of change: with the election of Barack Obama, the word "change" seemed to be on the lips of everyone around me. Students change so much over the course of a year too.
In just nine short months, they not only grow physically and emotionally, but academically as well. It is truly an honor to bear witness to their growth and maturity and to be a part of their changing beliefs and identities in these very formative years.
I love the celebrations that come with the end of the school year as well. From prom to graduation, one of the best parts of my job is to attend events that honor students and celebrate them. While we can always dissect and debate the problems that plague our schools, I think it’s equally, if not more important to recognize our triumphs. So, although this is totally biased on my part and shameless bragging about my own students, here are some highlights from my own 2008-2009 school year:
While it’s true that we have a hefty budget deficit to take care of and many schools still lack the resources they need, we also have amazing resources in our students themselves. For example, this year alone, the National Honor Society at Olney High School raised over $1,000 in pennies, nickels, and quarters for the March of Dimes and donated over 1,200 canned food items to Philadbundance. These students – our future leaders – are caring, creative, and some of the greatest resources our schools have.
Of course, there will always be the conversations about how some schools have not made AYP – now known as Empowerment schools – but we could also talk about moments of great empowerment that occur in the classroom, such as when my students created digital storytelling projects that told about their lives, neighborhoods, and routes to this country. When given the opportunity to be creative and utilize technology, students shine. Their digital stories were thoughtful, compelling and frankly, they blew me away with their depth and creativity.
Yes, it is a grim reality that the School District of Philadelphia has a nearly 50% dropout rate, but at the same time, there are students in Philadelphia who do beat the odds. My theater students recently participated in “Philly Reality” for the second year in a row at Philadelphia Theater Company.
They wrote, designed, directed, and performed their own monologues based on the issues that affect them most. Using their own voices and words, they were able to create something positive and hopeful out of the statistics that stalk them and threaten their success. Seeing students overcome fears of shyness or failure and perform on a stage is exhilarating. It is exactly this type of real-world experience that keeps students engaged in school.
Finally, we could debate the extent to which competition really works in education, go round after round discussing EMOs and charter schools. Or we could simply celebrate the sportsmanship that high school athletes demonstrate in their own competitions. Our very own softball team recently celebrated their successful season with a clinic taught by professional softball players, a Phillies game, and participated in a parade on the field!
It’s not that we should ignore the difficult issues. Of course, we still have a lot of work to do, and we should continue to strive for the best, because our students deserve only the very best. But perhaps we could take some time once in a while to celebrate what we do have, and the end of the school year is a perfect time for to do just that.