You only get a first day of a school once. So much preparation, hopes and dreams go into planning for a new school and the next thing you know you have kids skipping, shuffling, marching, dragging themselves through your doors like some sort of updated Breakfast Club montage. After 9 years with Paulo Freire Freedom School – University, today I moved a few miles south to be the Principal of Paulo Freire Freedom School – Downtown.
As I write this blog, I can see our new 7th graders busy at the work of taking their beginning of the year math assessment. They all look pretty focused, but I can imagine the internal dialogue going through their heads – some confidently hurdling over each varied math standard, others struggling with the few they have a chance of knowing and just wanting the whole thing to be over.
I know that in a few short weeks I will know so much more about each of these kids. I will learn why the pretty young Latina 7th grader refused to eat lunch and will have created specific strategies to manage the squirmy 6th grade boy, already working to establish an audience for himself whenever a teacher is trying to get the whole class’ attention. Each one of them has a story – or a multitude of stories about their strengths, stretches, passions, as well as family history and dreams for the future. It is our job to learn these stories – something I once thought was a luxury, but now see as an integral part of our job.
Incidentally, I rode the elevator today with a City High School senior who was volunteering time to move furniture in preparation for their start next week. He volunteered, unsolicited, that he was so glad that school was about to start; that he loved City High School and that he got really sad when he thought about it ending this year.
Isn’t this what we want for our kids? Schools that they call home, where they know they belong and are sad to leave. So many of our schools have become institutions with the adult collective attention focused solely on results — forgetting that kids themselves should be our focus. Sure we want them to achieve learning outcomes – but at what cost? And after years of experience I have come to believe that learning outcomes actually are more likely to be achieved when students feel connected to their community.
So because we care about the happiness and well being of our students, and because we believe it is best practices teaching, we create schools where, “you can always hear laughter in the halls.” (a quote from one of our PFFS-University 6th graders last year). It makes for a great place to gather and learn everyday. Day one of PFFS-Downtown was a day of laughter and learning — it’s a good start! Paulo Freire Freedom School – Downtown