I'm pleased to say that in one easily measurable way this was the most successful of my experiences at the school: time in seat. To put it simply, the students came to class. Now, before you read that wrong, understand, attendance, as officially recorded, has not been a problem. This is because school activities that pull students out of class do not count as absences. And there were fewer of those this fall than in either of the years before.
Here's the dilemma: many of those school activities are really important, or at least beneficial to students. Field trips, student leadership opportunities and college visits are often rich experiences that help students make decisions and let them practice the kind of learning and thinking they'll be asked to participate in throughout college and as part of their careers. Pep rallies, school assemblies, advising sessions, and standardized testing are important and accepted parts of high school life, important for building community or self-awareness (well, maybe not the testing...). But there's a critical mass to such activities, some tipping point that hits sometime during the year, when too much class time has been sacrificed and student learning has been sacrificed.
Or has it?
What is school for? Is it a place designed to hold the individual classrooms as spaces for teachers to instruct the students assigned to them? Or is it a place designed to bring people together and move them around, providing time in small clusters as well as in large community groups? It's a given that learning does not only happen in the classroom, and plenty of experts contend that the richer, more fulfilling learning happens beyond the classroom. At the same time, however, there are essential, formative skills students acquire in classes that are necessary for success in those extracurricular experiences they'll experience while in school and for success in their academic life to come. And classroom teachers are hired, first - right? - to help students acquire those skills, bridging the gap between where they are when they enter a particular class and where they need/want to be.
So the answer rests somewhere in the middle, as in every case. And I think Madison Southern has found this year a comfortable middle space. Students have been in class but have had opportunities - if slightly fewer - to travel, to congegrate, to learn, to celebrate. A high school is not a university. On campus, I find class time almost never sacrificed for the overwhelming majority of students. We prioritize maintaining the integrity of the classroom. Students do other things, but not at the expense of time in class. I can't help but wonder, though, whether all that other stuff a school offers and does is really a sacrifice at all, whether the integrity of the school absolutely needs, maybe even relies on, those varied experiences for students. What is school for?
P.S. I write this so close on the heels of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School that I feel insensitive thinking about anything other than that. I'll keep to the mission of this blog, however, and continue to mostly focus on education in Kentucky and the practices of schools and teachers in EKU's region. My heart goes out to that community, however, and I hope that anyone who reads this takes a moment, no matter when you encounter this, to pray for those in Newtown.