We’re back in Gettysburg after a wonderful week learning so much about Urban Education. Yesterday, we went to a charter boarding school that starts kids in 6th grade and goes through high school. This school emphasizes college from the beginning (98% of their graduates thus far have gone onto higher ed). Compared to the school model we looked at yesterday, I thought this one was a bit moreeffective. The facilities of the property were really nice- new dorms, half an old high school being renovated, and this fancy security background check machine that scans drivers licenses and takes a photo of you- so it was clear that the school had done a lot of fundraising. When Yoo Yuong and I had lunch with two 10th graders from the school, they seemed really passionate about what the school was doing for them. They had already gone on several college tours and had a clear vision of the type of college that they would like to attend. They did mention that it’s hard living in the dorms sometimes because there is so much structure in their days and nights. And they also said that given that the school can only afford to board students sunday-friday, transitioning between home life and school every week can be hard.
After our visit to the school, we had our last day of College and Career Institute at Midtown. We interviewed the students one by one (to give them an idea of what a college interview is like) and discussed and reflected on those interviews. Then, we went over paying for college (scholarships, financial aid, loans, etc), and the admissions process. The kids then spent about 20 minutes writing a mock college essay about an obstacle in their life, someone who inspires them, or something they are passionate about. They wereso focused and had really strong essays, which some of them shared with the group. At the end of the session, we had them put their portfolios together (which they presented today) and we gave them a group picture in a picture frame which they had fun decorating.
Today, when the students in our group presented their portfolios in the cafeteria to parents, peers, and teachers, it was clear that they had gotten a lot out of their week. The students were very professional and shook hand and introduced themselves to anyone who came up and asked about their portfolios. Their professional portfolios consisted of the activities we did throughout the week: their life/goal collage, journal (with entries), resume, and mock essay. Our students were amazing at articulating little things about the week (which I didn’t think they would remember). When people asked our students about the week, they had such positive feedback, so it made us felt like we had made a difference. I am so excited for them to come to Gettysburg and see our lives as college students in a few weeks! I think everyone involved gained a lot from the experience this week!
Our school visit today was to a public boarding school. Again, another long ways of traveling having to rely on a rather unreliable bus system. This reform model was like yesterday’s in that the focus was on building a culture of achievement, except here it was 24/7 (well, not including weekends when students went home). The 10th grade boy I talked to at lunchtime I could tell was definitely going places. He actually was already a sort of “student ambassador” that gave visitors tours of the school, he was enrolled in multiple APs, and he already had a list of colleges he wanted to apply to…for chemical engineering! He was still very curious about college life; he had plenty of questions and he kept up a good conversation. However, he wasn’t from an urban environment (this school pulls kids from across MD), and his schooling before this one he described as pretty average and calm; so, I wondered how my interaction would have been with a student originally from the stereotypical unstructured, misbehaved urban school system.
At Midtown this afternoon, we had another info-packed day about resumes, interviews, and financial aid. We also thought it would be a great idea to save our students’ letters to themselves until the day of their 8th grade graduation (even though they apparently already did this for another class). I really hope all the information we gave them today and yesterday has stuck at least a little. It’s been kind of hard for our group to tell if they’ve truly felt engaged by our lessons, these past four days with them felt like no time at all…
Today we were visiting another type of school reform. We went to Lombard and Hopkins to wait for Bus 10. Unfortunately, it decided it wasn’t going to come, so instead of waiting an extra 10 minutes for the next to come, we just hopped onto Bus 35, which took us close enough to the school. The day was extremely windy, which made the walk to the reform school we visited today a very long and cold walk.
Once we got in, we checked in with a pretty intense security system. Then, one of the school’s staff members came to show us around the school. We were given some background information about the history and then we got to tour the campus. The school focuses heavily on college and starts very early in making students aware of their options. Personally, I think the school provides a great environment for the children. However, I do wish there was a better option for the staff who worked there because their days seem extremely tiring and I can’t help but wonder how they are able to run a classroom efficiently when their long days seem to drain them so much. Still, they manage to do it. After the tour, I got to observe the biology classroom, which was awesome! I loved the class size because there were only about 9 students in there. It made it easier for the teachers to provide a lot of attention to each of the students’ needs. All of the students seemed actively engaged with their worksheet. There was one student who had his head down, but I believe he was already finished. We only observed for about 20 minutes and then we got to go and chat with some students over a lunch break. The two students that Liz and I spoke with were really great. They said that although there were things that they had thought annoying in their earlier years, they said how they had grown to understand and appreciate what the school was teaching them. After about 30 minutes, we headed out.
Rex, Liz, and I had to go to Walgreens to pick up our photos and we had thought we were going to be late, but ended up being the first ones there. Our plan for today was to complete the life map. We had started making parts of the life map, but today was when we were going to put it all together. It took almost the entire time. While they were working, we asked if they had any more questions for us and also, what they would want to do when they came to visit in April. The kids finished at different times, so we asked the ones who were finished to present their life maps to us while we waited for everyone else to finish. Every student got the chance to present and then we gave each of them some constructive criticism. It was great because the students began to critique each other, which to me, shows that they were really absorbing what we were telling them. It was a pretty great end to the long week.
As we’re wrapping up the end of this week, I really appreciate how my group kept me from being too high-strung about this week. We all contributed really great ideas and planned out what activities would go on which day, but they didn’t feel the obsession to plan about the exact about of time each activity would take. I feel like this probably saved me a lot of disappointment as I’m sure I would have felt if things did not start and end exactly as planned. I’m really excited to see the kids present their life maps tomorrow! I hope Ivan will be able to present his well even though he missed two days.