I’m so tired. Tired of sending letters. Tired of making phone calls. Tired of advocating for common sense education. Tired of being forced to spend valuable time on things that have little meaning to me, my students and my children. I’m especially tired of feeling like I’m not being heard by the people who have the “power” to do the right things for schools. But I’m NOT too tired. I’m not going to stop until I am once again excited about putting my children on that big yellow bus each morning. I’m not going to stop until I know that my children and all of our children mean more than their test scores. I’m not going to stop until I am certain that our schools can accept children for who they are and get them where they need to be, with authentic, challenging, hands-on learning. I believe every child in our country deserves at least that.
I want to show you what I mean. Some of you have probably heard me speak or write (often with frustration in my tone) about the lack of programs in public school for children like my son who need enrichment. In my opinion, No Child Left Behind was the beginning of the end for enrichment programs in public schools. Ironically, Race To The Top has exacerbated that situation. For the past few years, it’s been all about the students who “fail” tests, many of whom DO NOT need remediation yet DO need to be inspired.
When I realized a year and a half ago that my son seemed to be taking a lot of tests at school, I started asking for copies of ALL of the tests (Most of which I would not otherwise see). Since then, I have taken a few of those tests to the principal to point out that if my son has to take these tests, then the school owes it to him to provide what the tests consistently indicate he needs–“small group enrichment.” And every time, I have been told the same thing– “We just don’t have the resources right now.”
In December, shortly after one of those meetings with the principal, I had what we now call an “aha” moment. The famous Ghandi quote, “You must BE THE CHANGE you wish to see in the world” had crossed my path three times that week. I have loved this quote since noticing it on a colleague’s classroom wall years ago. Heck, one year I even ordered a pair of TOMS shoes that sported the mantra. Yet, the power behind those words had never really spoken to me.
I made an appointment at school for the next afternoon, and I took a chance. I asked to start a book club. The principal’s response? “That’s a great idea!” It would need to be sponsored by the family school organization for insurance purposes, and I would need to fill out paperwork to secure a room at the school. Students would need to have their own transportation as well as their own copies of the books, at least for now. Check… check… check… and check. Reminds me of another mantra from the bible, “Ask and ye shall receive.”
Talk about empowerment! What started four months ago as a book club for advanced readers in grades 3-5, has become a group of amazing children from every level of the reading spectrum. Parents of struggling readers have contacted me, hopeful that this might be just what their child needs to become a more confident reader after struggling with developmentally inappropriate curriculum this year. And parents of advanced readers are telling me that their children are more excited about reading than ever. Most importantly, each week when I meet with these children, I am reminded that every child, no matter how he or she reads and comprehends, truly does have a genius inside.
There were seven children at our first meeting and four months later there are fourteen. The hour we spend together is the best hour of my week and I suspect theirs, too. They are reading 75-100 pages a week independently, and each week they greet me with excitement at the doors of the school with books and Kindles in hand. We truly hang on each other’s every word for that hour. Yesterday, as we finished the recent Newbery Medal winner, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, students asked if they could “chest beat” in unison to honor the story’s protagonist, IVAN. What a sight it was! Goose bumps covered my body, and tears of joy filled my eyes. The smiles on their faces were priceless. I was too busy taking it all in to snap a picture, but it is one that will be etched in my mind forever. These children will never forget that book or the important lessons they have learned from our reading and discussions. THIS IS SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN A TEST SCORE.
This experience has affirmed for me that each of us truly do have the power to “BE THE CHANGE” we wish to see in the world. We can find it in the simplest of our passions. For me, that passion is books.
Month 1- Wonder
Month 2- The Lemonade War
Month 3- The One and Only Ivan
I continue to rigorously advocate for an authentic, fair school experience for our children. I will keep writing letters, making phone calls and disseminating information to other concerned parents and teachers as much as possible. In the meantime and until things change for the better, I encourage parents and teachers to seek out their PTA’s or FSO’s to help bring any kind of enrichment to your schools. Kids need this now more than ever. Of that, I am certain. You MUST be the change you wish to see… 🙂
P.S. That’s my little dude third in from left, front row. He and my daughter are my inspiration.