Monday, July 9, 2012

What would you rather to teach? People, stuff!

Ingredients for a successful high school transition program called the Summer Academy:

As a flippant youngster just out of college, I was asked in an interview at a highly respected district if I would rather teach Calculus or Basic Math.  After a moments ponder, I replied, "people, stuff."  Needless to say, I did not get that job!  The retort, however, has become the focus and framework for the remainder of my professional work.  Our Summer Academy is designed to take every individual to their personal next level. We will discuss those four groups involved as well as their progress in the Summer Academy setting.

There are many arguments to the earlier question with merit to both sides.  The straightforward answer of picking one over the other, limits or applies a governor to a leader, handcuffing the impact or reach of the message.  For instance, picking the struggling student sounds like the right answer, but excludes the experiences and familiarity the advance student currently holds with the topic.  The advanced student may have a better way!  On the other hand, choosing the advanced student as the primary market turns a back towards a great many number of students.

The Summer Academy uses any level of student and fits them in along a continuum to allow them to participate or serve.  To  begin, the academy is designed to increase the persistence to graduation rate, improve discipline and raise attendance rates by planning activities that connect struggling students with school.  These activities range from kite building  indoors to field trips into the community, IE local businesses, manufacturing plants or colleges and physical tests at a challenge course.  We meet daily during the typical summer school window, usually in the afternoon and usually have a daily meal together, provided by our FACS staff.

These soon to be 9th graders are guided predominately by upperclassmen from their new school.  A primary benefit is guidance and direction by the older students as they connect and build bridges into the younger student's lives.  This component shares many common features of typical mentor type programs, especially with the selection process seeking to enlist the aid of a wide variety of mentor candidates.  Another less touted attribute is the leadership practice afforded these young talented, energetic and passionate students.  They are allowed to practice their new found leadership techniques under the watchful and observant eyes of the professional educators who work in the building already.  These staff members get to actually run the academy hosting activities and lessons that often time fell out of the latest curriculum re-write but still leave lasting impressions with students.  This layering reduces the risk for the teachers, the mentors and even the students to find their individual success, regardless of their level. This model also allows those students that have completed the Summer Academy to return and participate as junior mentors, called "interns."  While interns gain some responsibility, leadership and posture their participation allows them the benefit of increased communication skills and improved connections to school. Preliminary data verifies the effectiveness with a substantial reduction in absences and office referrals for students allowed to participate in the Summer Academy.

Mentors, interns, students and even staff all get to practice their respective crafts.  Educational risks are reduced and literally everyone in the operation progresses to their next level.  That flippant response given over 20 years ago has now become a major premise for our Summer Academy.  We teach, people, stuff.

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