Friday, January 17, 2014

Right or Wrong? A Kindergartner Reminds Me That There Are No Easy Answers

I goofed the other day at our K-8 community gathering. And I didn't even realize it until a teacher pointed it out to me. I'm sure glad she did, because then I had the chance to set things right.

I was launching into a short speech about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and why we celebrate his birthday. I began by asking the students where Dr. King was from. Several kids raised their hands immediately, and I chose an especially enthusiastic-looking kindergartner. "Africa!" she shouted confidently. Since that was not the answer I was looking for, I paused, some students began to titter, I got a little flustered, and I replied sheepishly, "Well, that's a good guess, but not exactly..." I quickly pointed to an older kid who said "Atlanta," the answer I was expecting. We moved on.

It wasn't until after the gathering that Mrs. Chalek came to the office to tell of a little girl who had felt terribly embarrassed by essentially being told by the head of school in front of hundreds of other children that she was "wrong." But hadn't she given the wrong answer after all? Upon fast reflection, I followed her logic. It is true, Dr. King's ancestors were from Africa. So, in a sense, Dr. King was from Africa along with being from the United States and Atlanta. My kindergarten friend did not give the wrong answer after all. Quite the contrary, she was actually demonstrating a level of thinking that I had not considered.

There are certainly questions that have right and wrong answers. But there are a great many questions that have multiple answers. Those are the kinds of questions we ask here at High Meadows, and we encourage our students to explore the answers that are possible--whether the question is "Where is Dr. King from?" or "How can we build a world that values human rights?"

After I admonished myself for my poor on-the-spot reaction ("A good guess?" "Not exactly??" What kind of an educator am I???), I went to Mrs. Chalek's room to seek forgiveness. I explained to the class what I had done, admitted that I felt badly about it, and I asked my kindergarten friend "Will you please forgive me?" "Yes," she replied with dignity. And then she hugged me. And my day was made, no question about it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

PS-8 vs. PS-12, Part Two

So many wonderful things happen to children between the ages of 3 and 14. They learn to make friends. They learn to read. They learn to question appropriately. They learn to analyze, criticize, and create. They learn what it means to be both a good leader and a good follower. And, most importantly, they learn to love learning and to joyously embrace the ephemeral stage of life called childhood.

Preschool through eighth grade schools are expert at fostering these experiences with deep sensitivity and care--High Meadows especially so. And there are many compelling reasons and significant research that support High Meadows' PS-8 model. Here are a few:

  • High schools compete for human and financial resources with the lower grades, and the lower grades are the ones who lose out. Being a PS-8 school ensures that the early, elementary and middle grades receive the resources they deserve.
  • As High Meadows is a small school with no plans to grow beyond 420 students, our students are known and loved by teachers of all grade levels and subject areas. They are truly raised by a village.
  • High Meadows students learn leadership from a young age. Our middle years students take leadership roles around the campus, from participating in student government to serving the community through our HELP organization. These experiences result in students gaining greater self-confidence and a sense of belonging to a close-knit community.
  • Without a high school on the same campus, our students are under less pressure to act older than their age. A high school culture dominates in a PS-12 setting, and that culture brings with it social and academic pressures that we do not want younger children to encounter. In other words, our PS-8 configuration helps us keep our children from growing up too fast. 
  • Our alumni tell us that the transition from High Meadows to high school is one for which they are extremely well prepared. And receiving high schools love High Meadows students; they know our graduates are intrinsically motivated people who take the reins of their own learning.
  • Alumni also tell us that they were ready at the end of eighth grade to make the transition to a new school. The early teen years are the ideal time to leave the elementary school nest--there are new friends to be made, new challenges to face. Scary as it can be (and as heartbreaking it is to leave High Meadows), alums are invariably glad they moved on to a new school after eighth grade.
  • Studies conducted by the Rand Corporation, the National Middle School Association and American College Testing (ACT) conclude that a PS-8 model enhances academic, social and emotional development more than any other configuration. The ACT study further supports that an outstanding eighth grade experience is a better predictor of future success than any high school experience.

A High Meadows student enjoys a rich academic and social journey. Our teachers care about--and respond expertly to--where each child is developmentally. As an Atlanta-area high school placement consultant told me recently, "High Meadows' PS-8 configuration is not a hindrance, it is a gift." I couldn't agree more.

With much thanks to the inspiration provided by the Elementary School Heads Association and the following schools: Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, Country School, Duke School, Green Hedges School, Seattle Country Day School and Sheridan School.