Monday, June 01, 2009

Decisions Rewarded

Ten years ago, when we started looking to buy a house, there were two school districts we were willing to move into. I'd been listening and watching and learning over the nine years we'd lived in the area, and we were determined to move into the one that gave the best educational framework for my kids.

It's the best feeling to have a decision like that borne out.

Honestly, determining such a thing is not easy. Without having direct experience with a system, you can't possibly know how it will play out. Things change. And one person's excellence is another person's nightmare.

Today Number One had an awards ceremony and then a Step Up to High School ceremony. The awards ceremony was only for half her class (they divide into academic teams, and keep things spread pretty even among them). And I didn't keep any quantifiable stats or anything. But it was pretty impressive.

First, they had students in orchestra, band, and chorus stand. Fully three-fourths of the students were on their feet for the applause. I think that's pretty amazing in a world where music and arts are systematically being erased from schools to accommodate all the standardized testing and reduced budgets.

At the Step Up ceremony, the guidance counselor read each student's name, then some of their self-listed achievements and interests, one word to describe themselves, and their goals for the future (I talked about the goals part on GabWagon today).

Some of the words the kids chose were pretty interesting. Gregarious? Enigmatic? How are they so self-aware? Even if they didn't pick the words daughter said she didn't know what to choose, because she didn't want to pick something everyone else was saying, so her friend told her to say "authentic" because she's very genuine. Okay, how many eighth graders are that tuned into their friends? Maybe a lot, I don't know. I didn't have that many friends in eighth grade, and none close enough to say stuff like that. That's something I'd say to a friend now.

The counselor impressed me, too. Not all the kids were there, but he never missed a beat. He glanced at the next student, knew instantly who it was, and turned to their page--about 275 times or so. He never missed a step--even for the kids who were new this year. Sure, he's been this class's counselor for three years, but he said it was his first class, so it wasn't like he'd developed a system over decades. Plus, I tend to think of guidance counselors as concentrating on the kids with difficulties at home, or behavior or academic issues, or on the student council and stuff. He knew every. single. kid. And what's more...he knew their nicknames. Not even just Jay for Jarrell--he knew Carlie for Margaret.

That says a lot about how a school approaches its job.

Finally, the principal at the end said he was ditching the rest of his speech and talking off the cuff. He said this was the most respectful class of its peers he'd seen. An hour and a half of reading names and attributes, a lot of them the same, and there wasn't shuffling, or murmuring, or whispering or laughing or anything. They all sat quietly and paid attention. 275 teenagers.

Now, I know they're not perfect. Kids fight and ditch classes. One of the boys picked the word "godly" to describe himself. A student has been hospitalized or under treatment for depression for much of this school year. We don't escape the negatives, of course.

But I got all warm inside when a few students thanked their classmates for making it so easy to relocate from other states (especially when one boy said the kids here are much nicer than the kids in Texas! heee!). And I gave heartfelt thanks that my husband and I made the decision we did, and found the house we found, and that my kids are getting the education I'd always hoped they'd get.

I only hope other parenting decisions bear out the same way. Time will tell.

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