School Daze

This year, Higher Achievement enacted new curriculum goals and requirements of mentors. While these new reforms have much research and good intentions to back them up, they feel more to me like extra lesson plans for school. For me, the new requirements put a signifiant strain on what I am able to accomplish with my mentor group and what kind of relationship I am able to build with them.

Higher Achievement no longer looks like the program I fell in love with. With rigid pacing guides, strict essay guidelines and detailed lesson plans which aim to enhance state mandated standards it feels like school to me. And as hard as it is for me to say (as a strong believer in the power of education), I did not sign-up to stand and deliver lesson plans to students that are emotionally drained after a long day following the monotonous routine of public schooling as it stands today. I signed up to be a mentor. And as my friend Merriam-Webster says, a mentor “is a trusted counselor or guide”.

The task that I have in mind and the task I am forced to practice do not align. The scholars know it as well as I do.

I sympathize with my scholars. They have been at school since 7:30am and do not get a break until nearly 8pm the three nights a week when Higher Achievement is in operation. This adds up to over 12hours of intense stimulation. I would be irritable, so I cannot blame them for not being completely enthusiastic about having to write and work on perfecting the essay for an entire month straight. Yes, writing builds key academic skills and yes, practice makes perfect but not like this. There is virtually no time built in to our schedule for me to help out my students with things other than aspects of their lives which pertain to their academic goals.

There are so many other things going on in the lives of a middle school student which affect their ability to thrive and grow that these new standards ignore.

Relationship building has always been at the core of the position I have designed for myself at Higher Achievement. So in lieu of recent adjustments to the program I find myself town between wanting to uphold the standards set by the program (because researchers developed them, so they have to work right?) and building trust-filled relationships with my scholars.

I believe that relationships are the key to effective teaching and learning so I am more inclined to make that the focal point of my mentoring session however I cannot fully ignore the little voice telling me that the standards should be more important.

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4 thoughts on “School Daze

  1. With regard to the extra time for students in poverty, while the idea has good intentions to back it up, I don’t really think that it will help much. I think it would create more stigmatization for students with these challenges rather than truly helping them. It is not that they are learning at any slower of a pace than any other student, the issue lies in the opportunities that they have do not have access to simply because they live in a certain part of town. The purpose of Higher Achievement is to help students see beyond the cinderblock walls of their classrooms and the chainlink fences of their backyards; to look to something beyond the life to which have been accustomed. The program is aimed to close the opportunity gap and allow students of underserved communities the same opportunity for success as those students who come from more privileged backgrounds. The idea of an achievement gap overlooks the issue at hand, it is not that these students aren’t achieving because they do not have the capacity to succeed. It is that they happen to attend a school with limited resources and live in an area that struggles to provide supplemental learning support outside of the typical classroom day.

    Sorry for the rant, these issues just get me excited. I hope all those musings can make some sort of sense 🙂

  2. Your post raises questions re: the meaning of learning for children. Parents are told that young children are naturally curious, that parents should strive to make learning fun and to fuse it with bonding (e.g., bedtime stories) rather than to make everything about achievement. At some point, this approach to learning gets squeezed out of a child’s experience, especially for low-income children…Just thinking of Lisa’s post about having to spend all day amid yelling.

  3. As I was reading this, I kept asking myself, what’s the rush? I can’t believe the students spend 12 hour days learning. That’s almost as intense as it is in South Korea. I wanted to hear your opinion about this – what do you think about having extended years of schooling for children from high-poverty areas? If they have a slew of other factors affecting their schooling, and they are learning, just at a slower pace, but we want to keep it at 5-6 hours of learning per day, is it so bad to have a 13th or 14 year? Or would that be stigmatizing?

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