Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Shadow a Student Challenge!!

Since I graduated from Lewis-Palmer High School, Monument, CO in 1989, my visits to high school have tended to be limited to brief classroom visits, an occasional walk through the halls, or an athletic or fine art event.  I remember really liking high school…especially the social part.  I don’t really remember too much about most of my classes but I remember my friends and many of my teachers.  Today I decided to take the “Shadow a Student” challenge and spent the day attending classes at Northwest High School in my District. I can tell you I learned a lot and walk away with more questions than answers.
"The Meeting"
I had asked Principal Jason Childress to find me a student and he paired me with Josh.  Josh is a sophomore football player and within the first few minutes, I knew I would like him.  Everybody likes “Big Josh”.  He was a great tour guide today and didn’t seem to mind too much having me tag along with him all day.  I will keep some of our conversations private, but I do believe he gave me an honest and authentic look into the life of one of our student athletes.
Our day started with 1st period athletics.  We dressed out and offseason football workouts and I was amazed with how organized and efficient the workouts and drills were.  There was very little “direct” teach, but the coaches encouraged and motivated the team as the students worked with each other through drills they had obviously practiced before.  Josh was one of the vocal leaders and even tried to get me on the bench press.  I resisted, but did participate in some of the workout.  Best of all, I got a NHS football t-shirt to wear the rest of the day.
Tapping Out!
The juniors were taking the SAT test today and many of the teachers were being used to help with coverage.  Because Josh took Spanish I is an 8th grader, he is already in Spanish 3 (typically a junior level course) his teacher was helping with the SAT.  Therefore our 2nd period was more of a study hall.  I was a little relieved I didn’t have to practice my Spanish, plus it gave me a chance to talk to Josh about his typical day.  He shared that after school he will workout (again) and generally doesn’t get home until about 6:30-7:00 on most days. He also has a part-time landscaping job, likes old cars, and does a little homework.  I must admit we discussed making a Sonic run during second period, but thought better of it.

World Geography
Third period found us in World Geography.  Students grappled with the work of Ghandi and what social injustices are still present today.  The variety of thought in the room was substantial. Because of the room arrangement, I didn’t get to sit by my new friend Josh.  The group I was with struggled a bit making connections, but we worked through it.  It was also an Advisory period day so we stayed in 3rd period a little longer and had a lesson on cyber safety and got to watch announcements created by the AMAT academy.  It was all very good information and seems like a great way to get the message to all the student.

Back when I was in high school, my favorite period of the day was lunch!  We use to drive to Dairy Queen or one of the other fast food restaurants and hope we go back to school in time.  Nowadays, the students don’t get to leave, but the food court in the cafeteria rivals any medium sized mall.  Josh and I had Pizza Hut and nachos. The students were able to socialize and I even asked Josh if there were teachers on duty because it just seemed like everything was running smoothly on its own.  We sat at a table by ourselves as I tried to convince Josh that Texas Tech would be a great place to aspire to play football.  He was polite, but I could tell he has his sights set on Oklahoma State.  He mentioned that he needed to focus more in the classroom so that his grades are not an issue, but I was so impressed with his focus and his perspective of his future.

English II
In the afternoon, the academics got a lot tougher.  We went from English II, to Chemistry, and then Geometry.  One thing I recognized in all the classes is that you better keep up.  They move fast and expect students to have their work and be ready to go.  There was support, both in class, and with tutorials but I sure wouldn’t call it hand holding.  In English we practice some revising and editing which I could do fairly well despite my tendency to misspell words and generally butcher many grammatical rules.  Chemistry might as well have been a forgien language.  I vaguely remembered some of the concepts from high school, but I was basically lost.  Josh left with homework…I was just glad I didn’t have to turn my work in tomorrow.  The Geometry class was a review for a test tomorrow.  The students all seem to grasp the concepts and were ready to go. As the teacher reviewed with the student, I heard what was my favorite quote of the day, “This class is designed for YOUR success, not mine.” He was trying to have the students reflect on what they needed help with and address their needs.  We ended our day in Josh’s Principles of Agriculture class.  I was disappointed when we went to a classroom instead of a barn, but I did learn a lot of vocabulary around dairy science that I did not know.

End of the Day
After that, my day was over, but not for Josh.  He headed back to athletics for after school workouts.  Based on what I saw in Chemistry, he will get home tonight sometime around 7:00 and have an hour or so of homework before returning for football practice tomorrow morning to do it all over again.
So what did I learn today?
·        I learned that high school hasn’t gotten any easier in the last 25 years. 
·        I learned that teachers and students work very hard (actually, I knew that, but I saw it in action).I learned that classes and lunch are quieter than they use to be…a lot of kids on phones and with headphones. 
·        I learned that almost all of the students are very agreeable and follow the rules.
·        I saw very few “excited” about what they were learning and that most adults (including myself) sound foolish when we attempt to determine what is relevant for all students.
·        The “average” high school student is a myth.  There is no such thing…they are all unique.
Someone asked me as I left if it was worth it.  Absolutely.  It was the best day I have spent at work in a long, long time and probably the best professional development I could have experienced. Students will help us transform our schools if we let them.  We just need to look and listen!

A special thank you to Josh, Principal Jason Childress, and the entire Northwest High School staff for letting me invade your space today.  It was a pleasure!