Today, two stories help illustrate why there’s no single best school for all students. First, a parent speaks, then a student.
“We have a 10th grader who has amazing abilities in music and guitar, but he has pace and reading issues and Asperger’s. He had help in public schools from third grade on … he was successful, had friends, and a good attitude. This was through eighth grade.
“The minute he stepped into a large suburban high school, everything started to slowly go south. Due to his learning problem, he was forced to take a social skills hour, to help with homework … that took his elective. He never could … take a music course because this had to be his elective with an IEP (individual education plan). High school became read a book, take a test. Even with an IEP, he got so far behind.
“He gave up on school, teachers, adults and us, even though I spent most of this school year doing homework with him, emailing teachers, reminding them he has an IEP. Meanwhile, he found the “I hate Life” crowd at school, and started having panic attacks three times a week. I’d find him crying on the bathroom floor. We didn’t know what to do.
“He lost hope; he felt stupid; he told us he can’t learn. He also had a stigma problem and wanted to fit in so badly; nobody could help him. He ended up with no hope or sense of accomplishment.
“We checked out Main Street in Hopkins. Some of (his) friends went there. He wanted to as well.
“Now he has hope; we have hope. Music is his “major” at Main Street. He plays his guitar in the middle of the day. He gets up an hour earlier without complaining. The school has 300 students compared to thousands. Staff is so friendly; they knew my kid by name week one.
“Whatever your major is, say guitar, it can be incorporated in every class, even math. Each teacher has options for projects to use your major.
“This week (he) has a project in forensic science. He has to give a report on a real solved case. If he presents it in an artistic form, there is potential for more points than a traditional form. (He) is going to write a song telling the story; this is more engaging for my son than typing up a report.
“(He) has had a school attitude change, in a good way. The way school operates there is so much better for him. He was having 2 to 3 panic attacks/week last semester … not one since he started at Main Street.”
Here’s a second story:
“I dropped out of public high school (with my parents’ permission) in 11th grade due to the emotional stress of peer pressure and being harassed by your typical mean girls. When I defended myself, the principal punished me. I did not feel good about myself.
“One of my best friends graduated (from) Blue Sky Charter School. She told me about her success, so I enrolled.
“Blue Sky has literally changed my life. I can get online any time of the day or night. My schedule is much more flexible so I can work part time, do school and still have time for my family and friends. My books are always home or where I have Internet access, not left in my locker at school. My grades are great. No drama, no mean girls, and there are teachers that care.”
Over the years, hundreds of students/parents have written to me. Some succeed at district schools, some at charters. They’ve convinced me that no single school is perfect for everyone.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org