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Z loves everything about the planets, the stars, black holes, and anything Space-related. He can rattle off facts and is a very bright child. He is also disorganized, can lose focus easily and works fairly slowly. In a nutshell, he doesn’t “play school” well, but in a different learning environment, he’d thrive.

T is bright and loves motorcycles and cars. Today we talked about the possibility of an automotive career. We talked about how and where he could start along that path. I suggested he look at a technical high school with an automotive program. This way he could get the training he needs without having to pay to go to a ‘technical institute.’ I found one high school in the entire city that advertised an automotive program for incoming freshmen. In a nutshell, T has few options to pursue his passion in high school.

E loves singing. She’s only in 6th grade, but has already asked me if I know any schools that have vocal programs. I directed her to the new greatphillyschools.org site to search. She came back the next day and said she couldn’t find any schools. She had been looking for schools near her neighborhood. I explained that there were only a handful of schools in the district that offer specialized music programs, and that out of those, I wasn’t sure which offered voice specifically. In a nutshell, E will have to travel far from her home to attend such a school, provided she gets in at all.

Every day I am faced with the reality that most Philly kids cannot find a place to explore, develop and discover their passions and talents. Many leave 8th grade clueless as to what their interests even are. There are tons of dedicated Philly parents who pay for karate lessons, organized sports, summer camps and the like, but there are many who simply can’t afford it. Even the luckiest kids are still often stuck in an academic program that stresses mastery of content over self-discovery.

It breaks my heart to see both this lack of outlets in schools for student interests and passions as well as a lack of options for students who know what they want to do. With the recent trend to “turn around” failing schools by handing them over to large charter management networks like Mastery and Universal, whose focus is usually compliance and test scores, the passion-driven model of education has little chance of survival. Tack onto that the added complication of the impending closure and reconfiguring of many high schools around the city and the outlook grows even more grim.

So where do my students go?

Do they seek out a charter school with a mission that matches their interest and play the roulette game of hoping it is on par or better than a district-managed school? Do they suck it up and trudge through a year or two of high school and drop out because they are bored or detached? Do they trudge through high school never really knowing what they want to do and then end up as young adults with no vision for their future? Do they leave public school altogether and go to an independent school that will be more freed up to let kids explore their passions instead of worry about “eligible content” and pacing schedules?

Or maybe I’m painting a gloomier picture than is necessary. I know that there are amazing schools and teachers in Philly that are providing students with real-world experiences, connecting them with their communities in meaningful ways, and giving them opportunities to explore their passions and develop skills for life.

I envision a day, however, when these schools represent the norm. A day when we have re-evaluated what school is for in the first place and a day when my students know that they have options, that there is a seat somewhere in a school setting that meets their dreams and learning style.

I can see no other cause more imperative than investing in the dreams of young people, providing them with pathways to bright futures, and helping them develop skills for life, not just a transcript.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hufse/18056250/

  3 Responses to “There’s Nowhere for Them to Go”

  1. I’m with you here Mary Beth. This might be the crux of the reason we founded the Disruption Department. I was flabbergasted by how many kids wanted to discover/tinker/explore, but didn’t have access to experiences suited for discovering/tinkering/exploring.

    It’s exacerbated by the fact that most mainstream “ed-reform” proponents want to extend the school day and its focus on “the basics”, only further limiting our students from the prospects of independent discovery. No one says this about suburban or independent schools.

    It’s a worthy cause, and I’m glad you continue to advocate for it.

  2. Mary Beth,
    You just wrote about where I teach. In our district, we are so into intervention programs that just push more of the same. It’s more about manipulation that motivation. I think the most effective form of intervention is fascination, accomplishment, and the love of learning. On behalf of Z, T, E, and me, thank you for articulating your feelings so well.

    • Thanks, Kimball. Sometimes it feels as though everyone knows better, but no one has the guts to call it what it is…… Have a wonderful rest of your school year.

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