Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Three Things One Public School is Doing Right

My daughter is in 7th grade at the same public regional school system where I went through 7th grade exactly 22 years ago. A lot has changed in 22 years. "Regional School System" used to be code for "school system that sucks" during my salad days when I was cold and green, at least here in Southeastern Massachusetts where I grew up. This is certainly not the case today.

There are three new simple, inexpensive innovations that are part of the program at my daughter's school now that weren't there 22 years ago that I think are great and wish had been in place for me way back when:
  • Teams - My daughter's Middle School enrolls more than 1000 students from three towns in 7th and 8th grade. One of the three towns produces eight classes of 7th graders who enter the school each year. Another town produces just one class. In order to prevent "losing" these kids to little fish in a big pond syndrome, every student is assigned to one of eight "teams" with names like "The Adventurers" and "The Buccaneers." Each team is a loose confederation of students who, for the most part, travel amongst themselves throughout the school day - a school within a school. A student shares the same English, math, science and social studies teachers with the other members of his or her team, fostering a social network that is a transition between the nurturing of one teacher, one class, all day in elementary school and the social Darwinism that lies ahead in High School.

  • Daytimers - In my corporate life, one common thread I saw across most of my successful colleagues was fantastic organizational skills, an area in which I was personally very lacking. Much of this success hinged upon the flawless integration of a Daytimer-type appointment/calendar system into their personal and professional lives. Oh, I envied them - no matter how hard I tried to raise myself above the shitstorm of yellow Post-It Notes that tyrannized my life I could never bring myself to their level. A child of the 60s, to me, chaos meant order. I was poisoned - every Daytimer I ever tried to make part of my life would soon be buried under a pile of unread mail, memos, coffee-stained napkins and dreams deferred... At my daughter's school, however, they are training the future leaders of tomorrow to use Daytimers today! Every student is issued a colorful teen-flashy 3-ring student style notebook that is really a stealth Daytimer. Students are forced to schedule and plan their homework, their project milestones, due dates and tests in these notebooks, and it works. Even if they aren't doing the homework and projects, the discipline and system behind the scheduling becomes second nature to them and graduating to a "for real" Daytimer in high school or college should be effortless. (On a side note, I wonder if this isn't a corporate indoctrination scheme. Are the Daytimer people programming the youth of this nation to be non-functional without the security blanket of their color-coded calendar-appointment systems?)

  • FIVE terms per school year instead of THREE - Five report cards plus five mid-term progress report cards forces parents to confront their childrens' school performance ten times per school year. With a mid-term report card coming home after just one month in school and subsequent updates coming every month thereafter, parents can be made aware of problems their children are having before they spin out of control and can no longer be corrected. For parents of sneaky children there is a bonus element to this: the day before a progress report is to come home a computer at the school calls every student household with a recorded message from the principal telling parents to keep their eyes peeled. All progress reports must be signed and returned.
Is your child's school doing something right? If so, I'd like to hear about it. Is there something they should be doing? I'd like to hear about that, too. Please post your thoughts in the comments here.

[Cross-posted to BOPnews.com]