Monday, June 25, 2012

What Do Our Students Really Need?

This post is a bit long, and might at first seem like a story about my sister, but it is about us—Mountainburg—our district, our students, our future. So please read, then respond to the link at the end.

Last week my sister found an apartment in Fort Smith. Better yet, my sister found an apartment with the help of Mom, Dad, her boyfriend, my wife, and me. All six of us loaded up illegally in my dad’s new truck and scoured the Van Buren/Fort Smith landscape for an affordable, safe, and pleasing apartment for her to live in as she starts her junior year at UAFS.
We all had our role in this endeavor. My wife served as the guide to what was available and what was safe. Having lived in the area all her life, she knew that some places were not the best place for a single, beautiful 20-year-old female. My sister insisted on a place in Fort Smith that looked nice and had abundant amenities. My Dad insisted on something affordable (he is bankrolling the whole educational effort of my sister, after all) and safe. My mom served as the mediator when those two didn’t see eye to eye or couldn’t quite find a happy medium. I tried to be a sounding board for them both as they discussed the options. And the boyfriend, well, he was just happy to be along for the ride (and knowing my sister, he may not make the next trip to Fort Smith, but that’s a different story).
After we finally found a place that fit all of the qualifications, and after having thought about this day, I began considering what I just experienced. My sister, the youngest of seven in my family, was helped, guided, and coached into finding a place to live in Fort Smith so she could continue her education. She was surrounded by those who had love and experience in doing these sorts of things. Then I began thinking about her family tree. Her father is a college graduate with multiple successful careers. Her mother was a nurse until I was born and mothering became full time. Her oldest sister has a Master’s degree and pulls in six figures. The next sister is a college graduate and a successful mortgage loan officer. Sister three just received her doctorate from Pepperdine and is principal of the coolest Junior High in Mexico. Sister four is a 1st grade teacher in Oklahoma, sibling five is me, and sibling six is a college grad who works in HR in Missouri. College is a requirement for my youngest sister, and if she ever considered dropping out, we all would probably kick her backside and keep her in school.
So my thoughts are, would she have been able to do this, or at least have been able to do this with an equally as satisfactory outcome, without the family support mechanisms? I am not doubting my sister’s ability to succeed on her own. She is resourceful, and perhaps could have done this without any of us helping her. But what if?
Now to our district, our high school, our students. How many first generation college hopefuls do we have? How many first generation high school graduates do we have? How many families do we have that can fully bankroll the education of their children? How many have the support system and educational background like was described above? Do our graduates have the skills necessary to be college and career ready when they leave us, even if they do not have the support system?
Ever since I began teaching here in 2006, I have thought about these questions. I see smart and above average intelligence students struggle when they leave us. I feel that we teach them content. I feel the three R’s (our core subjects and content knowledge) are duly imparted upon our students. Our test scores from kindergarten to high school are average and above average, so we are teaching them the content, but I have always felt that something has been missing. If content was all that was needed, then more of our students would successfully transition to meaningful work and college immediately after they graduate.
So, my question is this: other than core content knowledge (which is an absolute must), what do our students need to be successful in college/further training and in their career? What are the 21st century skills our students need to survive and thrive? Think long and deep, then please answer through the survey link below.

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