On Friday I had the opportunity to watch five talented dance groups, the performances of a rapper with the positive message of doing his best in life and a beatboxer who wowed the crowd with his ability to create a song of different sounds vocally, and the whole show was emceed by two charismatic and gregarious hosts. The crowd was engaged, spirited, and loving it. Where did this amazing display of talent take place, you ask? At my school’s rally.
The events on Friday fly in the face of how many in the community view my school. Even though the campus in the newest and nicest in the district, we are located very near gang neighborhoods and many of our students are in gangs and/or have experienced gang violence. We’re well-versed on what to do in a lock-down. The majority of our students come from poverty. With 22 languages represented, ESL is not a designation, but a way of life. So it’s not uncommon when I go to community functions and meet other people that I (and everyone else I work with) am asked rather condescendingly, “Oh, you teach those kids? How do you like teaching there?” I think they expect me to break down crying and satisfy them with tales of horror and plans for fleeing the teaching profession. Instead I smile and say, “I love it. I love my kids. I drive an hour each way to teach them.” Then I’ll list some of the colleges where they have been accepted: Stanford, Howard, the US Naval Academy, and the UCs, including Berkeley and UCLA just to name a few. This normally shuts them up as they recover from the shock.
The teachers and administration that I work with are very dedicated to our students’ success and spend a lot of time supporting them; however, we provide guidance and help. It’s our kids who make it happen. The dance groups at the rally? They stay after school and practice everyday. They are organized to create the choreography and they give each other feedback. The boys from choir who sang the Star Spangled Banner trained and rehearsed on their own. The emcees are student leaders. Our sports programs have grown and many of them go on to county and state championships. We have a very large and popular MESA team that meets two-three times a week and brings home a multitude of awards for their skills in math, engineering and science. I had the opportunity to see a preview of a windmill event and was impressed by their thorough knowledge of construction, problem solving, and physics (one windmill team went on to win a gold medal). Nine of our health careers kids placed in the top ten in their events at a recent competition in which 2,200 students from across the state participated. We also have a very strong AVID program and I believe of last year’s graduating AVID students, about 99% of them were accepted to a four year college. I haven’t even gone into what our kids do in CSF, NHS, Key Club, Conflict Mediation and Culinary Arts.
As the Academic Decathlon coach, I have witnessed our students’ dedication as they created study groups, taught each other, made power points, and played review games. Some of them met twice a week, and a lot of work was done at home. For the days of competition, they coordinated the lunches; I just followed their orders. On the big day of competition, we were one of the largest groups there, and we won five awards. We were, though, trounced by smaller teams who had actual Academic Decathlon classes. My kids do not have the luxury of a class and they did all of their studying on their own time as a club. What blows me away is that while many of our students have support from home, many others do not. Our kids do all of these things because they want to and are motivated to succeed to create better lives for themselves and their families and give back to others.
Is my school perfect? No, there’s a lot we can improve on, but we’re dedicated to trying new things and finding out what works. But if our kids are labeled as those kids, then I say, “I’ll take those kids any day.”