Monday, June 4, 2012

Education is NOT Broken

It's all around us: the negativity about what's wrong with education, what must be repaired. I've written several blogs explaining some of the practices that my students and I have put into place because there are things that need to be re-evaluated. However, in the last month I've had the great fortune to hear stories from some of the most amazing educators in Alabama. Many of them working in difficult, high-need schools across the state. The resiliency and creativity of educators and their students abound in spite of the challenges that many of us face day to day. I know these educators and students are all over the world, often fighting to overcome what may seem insurmountable obstacles to find success. They are the unsung heroes that we should be hearing about regularly. I'd like to share a few of the stories here to remind all of us what is right in classrooms and schools everywhere.

Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard about Green Ribbon Schools. Green Ribbon Schools (GRS) is an award program that recognizes schools participating in activities that promote and encourage a healthy and environmentally friendly learning environment. It's a program where students can learn to better use their resources and addresses the issue of childhood obesity by promoting health and fitness. Munford Elementary School in Talledega County partnered with the park rangers in the Talledega National Forest to create environmentally sustainable learning spaces, to protect health and foster wellness for Alabama students while saving energy and reducing costs. They also integrated forestry, conservation, and environmental education themes throughout the curriculum through "theme immersion." For their hard work and dedication, Munford Elementary School was a National Winner for the United States  Department of Education Green Ribbon School Award.

One of the must heart touching stories that I heard was from Kim Beaty who teaches at Hope Academy in the Eufaula City School System. Hope Academy is not your average public school. It's an alternative school for students who have personally (or through their families) experienced truly horrific things. No student should ever have to live through the violence, abuse, or, or crimes that they have endured. Most people would write these kids off as a "lost cause." But not Kim and her fellow teachers.  These teachers dedicate their time to helping these students become a powerful voice for change instead of just letting them coast until they drop out of  school. These teachers see the potential in every student and, in spite of obstacles, many of these students do successful earn their diplomas and enter the work force as successful members of society. 

Often we hear that students today are not interested in the world around them. This story proves that statement unequivocally incorrect. Here's the story of a teacher, Brian Copes, at Calera High School who challenged his students to build a basic utility vehicle that could be used in developing countries. Their challenge was to create these out of donated parts that could easily be found in these countries. The students not only created a vehicle that survive the remotest terrain, but they also built variations: a school bus, an ambulance, a drill for wells, and a plow. Additionally, after hearing from an area specialist that there are many people in these countries who are amputees, but cannot afford the $2000+ prosthetic, he let the students experiment and investigate with the prosthetic. Then they build replicas that could do the same job for under $100. These amazing students and their teacher are travelling to the Honduran Cloud Forest this summer to deliver one vehicle, help them construct a second vehicle, and fit amputees with their prosthetic.(Watch their amazing story here.) And did I mention, these are kids who haven't even graduated high school yet? They are confident, knowledgeable, and have a clear understanding of how math, science, and engineering directly impact the lives of people. (Yes, they've won multiple awards against university students, but that's not what drives these students.)

I hope that these stories encourage all of you to take a few minutes to see the trees in the giant forest of education. There are some real stories of triumph and student empowerment all around us. Yes, there is no doubt that there needs to be some change in education, but these are stories that must not be overlooked. If you've got a story of an unsung hero, I'd love for you to share it here. We would all benefit from celebrating these successes.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photo pin cc

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