The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Why Not Appropriate High Schools for Everyone?

on January 13, 2017

Since we are  snowbound here in Portland, I feel isolated from all that’s going on in the rest of the world.  Schools  have been closed for three days and are not likely to open again until the middle of next week.  We have not received  any mail or newspapers since last Sunday, and there’s nothing for me to do except write for this blog, clean up after our house bound dog, and figure out how to stretch our food supply until the snow melts sometime next week.

Today’s piece is based on an article published in the New York Times last Sunday, entitled “Seizing a Second Chance to Graduate From High School.

Every once in a while when I read something positive about our public schools, I make it a point to share that news with you. Yesterday I read an article about special high schools in New York City that are rescuing students who are on the verge of going down the drain in regular schools. Now, because of their problems, they are enrolled at one of the city’s 57 transfer schools that provide significant support for them to attend school regularly, do well in their classes and graduate within a reasonable length of time. Such schools also enable students to have part-time paying jobs after school hours.

By no means do I think that the school described, Brooklyn High School for Leadership and Community Service, is perfect, but it has latched on to some important actions that make a positive difference; the sort of things that every school could do if it had a more realistic view of students situations.

To my mind, the first positive thing about this high school is its name. When students tell families or friends where they go to school they feel proud and their listeners are impressed. Clearly, it is not a school for dummies or failures

In addition, the school is not a typical over-crowded building where students are merely bodies to their teachers and classmates. This school has 202 students altogether and class sizes of 20-25 students. Those numbers make it possible for teachers to know their students well and for students to feel they are among friends everywhere in the building. To heighten their feelings of belonging, students are allowed to call teachers and the principal by their first names.

However, the biggest advantage of a small size school is that the counselors, who are assigned 40 to 50 students each, know students well and can keep track of their school attendance and classroom performance. When a student starts to slide, his or her counselor is there ready to provide understanding, assistance, and, if needed, special services.

Perhaps the most appealing school feature for students, who had little hope of success before, are after school job-training programs where they learn and practice workplace skills. One third of the school’s students currently have paid internships in such places as small factories, childcare centers, bakeries, or veterinary groups.

Although the article says nothing about the teaching practices or special tutoring at the school, what comes through are the power of personalization, respect, and caring to motivate students who were previously detached from their old schools and unaware of the future possibilities to transpose themselves into capable learners, workers and citizens.

Today’s high schools, in general, do not  seem to care much about individual students or which classes are relevant to their needs and interests. It’s all a matter of what the school expects from everyone, regardless of their previous schooling, health, wealth, home situations, or ethnic backgrounds.  Although regular high schools cannot afford all the extra services of schools like the one described here, they could do much more  to create smaller and more intimate divisions of students within a large building and to focus on a wider range of curricular opportunities for those who need or want them.  It’s long past time for the federal and state decision makers to get over their obsession with unrealistic standards and high test scores and, instead, dedicate themselves to serving the needs of the students in all schools.

One response to “Why Not Appropriate High Schools for Everyone?

  1. Jane Watson says:

    Reminds me of an alternative HS I used to teach at in Yakima – The Place. Had about 98% attendance and 95% of kids passed their classes by the end of the term. We still get together with the kids. Administrators killed it.

    Sent from my iPhone


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