Friday, March 23, 2012
My Reflection As We Leave San Diego
These are my rambling thoughts as we depart for home. I do not intend to offend anyone or to be negative in any way. I believe that Project Based Learning has a place in the education of our kids at WSR and I am anxious to see where this journey leads us.
I don't know if the blog is the right place for this sort of post but I feel compelled to try to wrap up my thoughts and try to decompress from the amount of information I have taken in over the last 4 days. It was truly an incredible experience and one that I will never forget and one that has changed me for the better:
As we leave San Diego I would like to take some time and reflect on what I have had the privilege to witness first hand. All of the schools were unique and served their targeted clientele very well. Money was a huge concern from every school I visited. Even Hi Tech High struggled to make its ends meet.
In every school that we visited, the kids, teachers and administrators were there by choice. They were not forced to go to the school they were attending or forced to be given the type of instruction that they were receiving. They all knew what they signed up for when they did so. I believe that this is a vital key to their success and I would not recommend forcing this type of instruction on any teacher or student. In my opinion, we would be setting that teacher or student up for failure.
All of the schools are purposefully small. None of the schools we visited had the enrollment that Waverly-Shell Rock has. Their reasons for this vary but much of it boiled down to the fact that by being small the teachers can get to know their students much better and they can do a much more effective job of educating their students. In the California Public School System, due to budgetary reasons, class sizes have reached an average size of over 42 students per class! At the schools we visited many of them have class sizes at a much more manageable 20 or fewer per class. With this smallness, the schools are not able to offer electives like we do at WSR. We saw no band, choir, orchestra, business, or ag classes. Only the schools that specifically targeted constuction or engineering had any sort of Industrial Tech program. Of the schools I personally visited, only Hi Tech Hi offered art. Industrial Tech and business were infused into some of their projects. There were no separate Business classes at any of the other schools I visited.
I was truly astonished at the number of Charter schools that the state of California has. In Iowa, there are only a few and those are in part, an attempt of certain districts to attract more students. I believe that meeting the needs of their current students was a secondary reason for their Charters development. Considering the state of education and the class sizes as they are in California, it stands to reason that these schools have popped up. My guess is that this trend will continue as things worsen, budgets continue to tighten in California, and parents continue to search for an effective and safe way to educate their children. My hope is that the people of Iowa will continue to make educational funding a priority and use California as a cautionary tale of what could happen if our priorities change. You truly get out what you put in to things and the California Public School System is living proof of it.
All of that being said I was truly inspired by the teachers that I met wherever I went. They were all dedicated professionals and supremely gifted at their craft. No matter what school I was at I got the impression that the students, teachers and administration were all on the same page and truly connected with one another. More than once the word "family" popped up when describing the climate of a school. At Hi Tech Hi most of the students called their teachers by their first names. I remember when I first started teaching the students called me Mr. Steck or Steck and the Principal called into his office and let me know under no uncertain terms that this was not acceptable. My guess is that he would not have been a very good fit for HTH and their philosophy of education. The students I spoke to on this trip admired their teachers and looked to them for more than just instruction. Many of the teachers out of desire and necessity, acted as emotional and career counselors, disciplinarians, support staff, and a number of other duties that needed to be done to properly educate and support their students. The support they got from home was equally impressive. It is my belief that the parents of Wsr students are very supportive and appreciative of what we do here at WSR as well. Some of the students we met have to ride the city bus for over an hour in order to get to school and some parents drive an hour and a half just so their child can attend this particular school.
Like many states, California has exit testing that is required before a student is allowed to graduate and even in the Charter schools this emphasis on testing drives much of what they do because of the money that is tied to the successful completion of the test. The administrators and teachers voiced their frustration with this situation and many believed that this emphasis on testing is detrimental to the learning process that takes place in their schools.
Looking forward, I hope we are able to bring some of the PBL ideas we got from these schools. Selfishly speaking, I would love for my kids to be given this type of instruction. It is yet another tool in our box that can be used to effectively educate our kids. If we are to do it on a limited scale at WSR, inevitably, changes will need to be made in the approach we take to our school day. The most effective schools we toured have smaller class sizes. Instead of having 24-27 students in many of our core classes, it is my belief that we will need to reduce that number to less than 20 per class for those who choose to implement this type of instruction. That will have a ripple effect on the staff who are choosing to stay with their conventional style of instruction. If we choose to adopt this on a limited scale the number of students per class for those outside the program will begin to increase. I don't know if we would be comfortable with or if we had the space in our classrooms for 30 or so students per section. Would the district be willing or able to afford more teachers to keep the class sizes at current levels? How would these changes effect the climate of the school? Would some teachers think negatively about the other teachers who chose to teach this way and vice versa? What would the students outside of the program think of those who are in it? How could we make this work in our master schedule? Would this be something that we would adopt Pre K-12, 5-12, or just at the high school? What about funding for the projects? Would the responsibility fall on the school alone to fund things or would there be some sort of partnership with community organizations and businesses in order to make this happen? If so, who would head that up? There are lots of questions that need to be answered as we move forward with this. All I know is that if it can happen, the staff here at W-SR are the right people at the right time to get the job done.