Monday was our last meeting for the CASA Project for the school district. We started out with several groups reading books and forming book clubs. We met three times and gave suggestions for ways the district can close the achievement gap based on the books we read. The fourth meeting was centered around an action plan, and specific ways to change what is happening in the district to better serve at-risk students.
I have learned a lot, and enjoyed sitting in those rooms with so many interesting, passionate, dedicated and intelligent people. My hope is that the work we did will make a difference in the lives of educators, administrators, and especially the children and youth who are struggling to achieve success.
I came away with a lot of insight and also some questions. I really believe we have to help students now who are having a hard time feeling a part of the school structure, and are not successful in school. But I also wonder if it's time to revisit who sets the standard for achievement and how it is measured.
Who decides what achievement is? Is the definition, which clearly is high test scores and good grades on a report card, still working for our children?
As a Montessori mom, and one who used the materials to homeschool, I have a different view of success and achievement. I really don't think a test score or report card is a true measure of a child's knowledge.
One of our suggestions for closing the achievement gap was to allow schools to make their own decisions about their needs. Districts want to make the most of the dollars they have, and I get that, but our children need a different approach from the cookie cutter mentality.
What works well for one school, such as an extended day, may not work at all for another school across town where the demographics are completely different. A recurring suggestion was student voice. It was one that came out early, and so the fourth meeting included students from a nearby high school. One of them sat in on my group the last night of the project.
I suggested that giving students a voice needs to happen early. It is already happening in Montessori schools, but the climate of the traditional classroom needs to change to be more of a collaboration between the teacher and the student, so the students feel empowered and responsible for their own education.
Another recommendation was to genuinely care about and accept each child. Everyone in a school must have a real interest in each child's background, culture, needs and abilities.
It's what I would hope for every child who walks into a school building. Unfortunately, I don't think it happens often enough.
There are so many things that can be done to right this wrong--students who are failing and dropping out. If I had to sum it up into a few words I'd say this: Always come from a position of love. When we come from a position of love into any situation the transformation that occurs is amazing.