On Being Thankful

November 21, 2011

As we head into Thanksgiving week, I am reminded as I visit with educators and learners that we have much for which to be thankful in Albemarle County.

“Reading is expensive. When your family can’t afford books or they don’t live near a  library, it’s a lot harder to learn to read.“ Recently, a senior shared with me the significant challenges that she has faced in living below the poverty line in our community. As she shared her aspirations to attend an Ivy League school, I listened to her describe growing up in an isolated area of the county, “The first time I remember going to Charlottesville was on a field trip when I was nine years old.” It’s hard to imagine given the many resources available to most of us living in our community that this could be true.

The young woman described teachers from elementary through high school who saw and nurtured potential in her. As she expressed her thanks for the enriching opportunities that she’s had, she shared that she now tutors younger children so that they might have the same chance she’s received to find a pathway to college. I know this young woman is banking on a full scholarship to make her college dreams come true, but she has many committed educators and a caring mom in her corner to help her.  I am thankful for those who saw this young woman’s potential – not simply a child living in poverty who came to school with little of the background knowledge and experiences of her middle class peers who are in advanced courses with her today.

“I like science this year.” The student carefully dropped food coloring into two beakers, one filled with cold water and one with warm water.  A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to visit the class of a young teacher who is new to our school division. He had set up lab activities so his students could explore three critical concepts related to heat transfer. Without the lab activities, the students could have memorized definitions, cited examples of the concepts, and taken a test to demonstrate their recall of the information. With the lab activities, they experienced first-hand the meaning of conduction, convection, and radiation.

The teacher emailed me afterwards with thoughts of what he would like to do next to add even more science project work to his teaching so that students will be actively engaged in science.  I hope an energetic generation of young educators will move into our schools as the Baby Boomer generation retires from classrooms across the United States and in our community, too. I am thankful that this young teacher chose our community as a place to live and work.

lab work

“I disagree with _____ because I think there’s too much pressure on young athletes to practice all the time. I know several friends who have quit soccer because of it.” The middle school students, seated in chairs facing each other, were engaged in an AVID (Acceleration Via Individual Determination) activity called philosophical chairs. In this activity, students read a selection and prepare their own responses so that they can engage in discussion and debate with peers. In this case, the article came from Scholastic Magazine, a report of student polling data regarding the impact of intense sports programming. The students took apart the selection, agreeing and disagreeing with each other for almost an hour. Afterwards, they wrote individually about what they learned from the discussion in response to questions posed by the teacher.

I later attend a session of staff meeting with AVID program supervisors who visited our schools to check on the success of the program. The visiting educators gave the two programs they observe at Jack Jouett Middle and Albemarle High a “two-thumbs up.” They recommended to principals that teachers prominently display diplomas and other memorabilia from their own colleges to encourage AVID students to see college as a viable option in their own lives. I am thankful that learners in our schools with the potential to be the first in their family to attend college both have the chance to pursue that dream and to receive the support they need to do so.

Analysis of a Reading Selection

Every school in Albemarle County has success stories of students and educators who engage in making the Mission of our school division more than words in a document or on a poster.

“The core purpose of Albemarle County Public Schools is to establish a community of learners and learning, through relationships, rigor, and relevance, one student at a time.”

These words are backed up with data about the performance of our young people in academic programs, the visual and performing arts, career and technical education, leadership and community service, and athletic activities.  From the four-year olds we serve in Pre-kindergarten to seniors poised to walk across the graduation stage in June, the young people of Albemarle County Public Schools are served well by educators in our schools.

Everyone in this community should be proud of the accomplishments of young people and the investment we make in them and those who teach. Our children represent America’s future and, in this season, I am reminded that we should give thanks for all our learners and their accomplishments.

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