Preface: I want to say that there are some wonderful things happening in the Hartford Public School System. We have greatly improved our academic performance, redesigned some of our schools and have been Nationally Recognized for some of our magnet school programs. We also have strong minority representation on the Board of Education, in the Superintendent’s office and throughout the administration. Some of these people I know personally and they have brilliant minds and warm, genuine hearts. There is just too wide of a gap between that great leadership and some of our students.
I currently work in a high school with a very high, urban, low-socioeconomic population in Hartford, CT. This school is often referred to as “the step-child” school, because it’s always the last school on the totem pole to receive attention; unless, of course, it’s negative attention.
Today, my attention was called to a document that was taped to a wall in the abandoned wing of the school, where my office was relocated too. This document states the schools former mission statement and outlines the expectations for student achievement. The document is faded pink, I really wish it was dated, but it looks pretty old to me. I was fascinated by what this document said:
The Mission of __________ High School is to provide a safe and supportive learning community. ___________ High School respects the influence of socioeconomic factors upon learning and celebrates it diversity in preparing students to compete in an often inequitable global society.
To this end, we shall prepare our students to become technologically competent, critically thinking adults what are self-directed life-long learners. Furthermore, students at _______ High School will be encouraged to demonstrate responsible citizenship through participation and leadership.
The document goes on to outline the academic, civic, and social expectations for the students which also serve as guidelines for staff and faculty to do things that facilitate meeting the expectations. The following are a few of my favorites
- Competence in science, math, humanities and vocational disciplines…
- Understanding and appreciation of the arts
- Awareness of global issues
- Meet voter registration requirements and register to vote
- Participate in clubs and organizations that reflect student interests
- Establish habits conducive to learning independently
and my favorite…
- Apply ethical principles to behavior and resolve conflicts to avoid interference with their daily life
This is like poetry to my ears. It's a great mission statement with wonderful expectations, but those responsible for establishing such a school culture have totally lost the vision of our predecessors. The school today looks nothing like this. The mission has been forgotten and we
have failed are failing our youth. Today, the school has no student driven clubs, no real art classes, no music, no focus on politics, civic engagement or global awareness, low academic standards (the students tell me their teachers don’t assign homework), not enough classes to accommodate the number of students, staff who antagonize and provoke the students, and the worst discipline practices I have ever seen. I could give you hundreds of examples but, you know….
The interesting thing is, that the expectations outlined in this schools old mission statement reflect what current research shows to create preventative environments. In other words, clubs, civic engagement opportunities, global awareness, high academic standards, exposure to culture and arts and trusting adult/youth relationships all DECREASE RISK for many things including teen pregnancy, drug use, school incompletion, gang involvement, etc. etc. How much are we pushing our kids towards these outcomes by failing to provide them with better opportunities and healthier environments? Why are we ok with sustaining environments that are full of risk?
I know things are tight in the budget, but come on, at the very least we need have zero tolerance for staff memebrs that call the student convicts and train the to differentiate between trauma and tantrums. We need to stop kicking kids out of school when they show up out of uniform wearing dirty white tee shirts, spring jackets and house shoes in the snow. Do you really think the student woke up and said to him/herself, "I can't wait to put on the same shirt I had on for the past three days"?What are we doing? Is the mission to have a school that is academically rigorous, supportive, sensitive, and safe, impossible? With all we know about success and prevention... I don't think so.
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