Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thoughts On Reagan HS Community Meeting

I visited Reagan High School today. Of the many images that remain around in my head afterwards, there was one that resonates profoundly with me still.

This was the image of someone who is seemingly unable to stay awake, no matter the activities unfolding around him. I watch, noticing that his drowsiness has not sparked interest in anyone else. They simply go about their business as if he weren’t there.

As many of you know, Reagan is a school on the brink of closure, just as Johnston High School was a few short years ago. For, you see, the state has judged Reagan as unable to provide an adequate education, as judged by TAKS scores, over three consecutive years. A fourth could mean certain doom.

Tonight, there was a meeting that brought together students, parents, teachers, staff, community members, and interested independents, so to speak, to discuss the seemingly bleak future of the school that opened in 1965. The meeting began with a few short presentations consisting of progress reports since the previous meeting, held one week prior. Of the highlights was news that within a just a week, Reagan had become eighty percent wireless, with hopes of achieving full-wireless status by the end of the month.

We then split up into action committees, if you will, each individual choosing a topic that we found of interest. The six available groups included issues of English Language Learners and access to related programs, Academic Support in the form of tutoring and mentoring, Attendance, Family and Social Support, School Climate and Community, and finally, a group dedicate to getting at what many see as the root of the problem, which is the legislation behind vulnerability to closure. I found myself torn, but settled with the legislative group.

In what was probably the closest thing to Freirian dialogue I’ve ever experienced, we chatted for about ten minutes, discussing what we know and how we aim to find out what we want to find out. This was coincidentally similar to a K-W-L approach, as it were. Our individual relationship to Reagan which each of us brought provided for some good discussion, albeit very limited. If nothing else, given the short amount of time and the variance in experience, we were able to lay the groundwork for moving forward. Of course, we reconvened to share some main ideas developed by each group, and discussed shortly the ultimate goal of the action groups, which, obviously, is developing a practical and effective action plan.

Towards the end of the meeting, a young man wearing a backpack and a sleeveless white t-shirt approached the podium. His body language was clear - he wanted to address the audience. Luckily, this was quickly recognized and he was given the microphone to deliver his message. And what a simple message it was – one of those, am I the only one about to cry-right-now-simple-messages. He said, “Thank you.”

As it turns out, the young man is a senior at Reagan, and although he’ll graduate from the school this year regardless of its pending fate, it was clear he was appreciative of our taking steps to ensure the same opportunities for future students.

As the meeting was adjourned, I happened to overhear a conversation between another student and a member of the Reagan community. He was essentially echoing the sentiment of the aforementioned gentleman, and offered his gratitude and sincerest hope that our efforts will not prove to have been in vain. There was one thing that, although it might sound a bit corny taken out of context, was at the time oozing with authenticity and beauty.

He simply said, “I don’t look at it like I go to Reagan, but that I am Reagan. And Reagan is part of me.”

As I exited the cafeteria, pondering the event, I noticed that the parking lot, which just a short hour earlier was sparsely peppered with cars, was now full of action. In the field were groups of kiddos, what seemed to be middle-schoolers, equipped with football pads and helmets, doing their best to see in the dark, hoping the next car wouldn’t be their folks looking to summon them for a bath and a bit of homework. Parents who had already arrived or maybe had never left were laughing and chatting, and along the edge of the grass a table of barbeque fed people of all ages. I assume you can imagine the cacophony of the setting. I find it to be nice to listen to.

The boisterous crowd consisted of parents, students, teachers, grandparents, pets, and so on and so forth. However, I didn’t get a sense of division amongst these groups. Rather, I saw natural interactions amongst members of an organic community, having their base in a geographical location, which was Reagan High School.

As I drove home, I did my best to reflect on the meeting, the gathering afterwards, and what it could all mean to me, both as a teacher and as a citizen. It was clear that the plight of Reagan High School represents a myriad of things to me.

I see a community that has naturally developed and strengthened over generations, threatened with possible disbandment by foreign – and somewhat uncontrollable - factors. I see parents, students, teachers, and staff, all entrenched in the same fight, albeit likely for different reasons. I see an opportunity to get involved in something I believe in, which is fair treatment of all the aforementioned community members. And I also see a great injustice. I see in Reagan an injustice whose explanation and validation rests on a policy that is known to be biased, racially and economically, amongst other criticisms. I see in Reagan an opportunity to fight a bigger foe; that of the oppression of the high-stakes accountability system that has been tightening its grip on our schools for years.

I also see an opportunity for others to get involved. I cannot stress to you enough that it’s never too early to get active in issues of educational and social justice. It is truly amazing to see the effect you can have just by offering an open ear and a little bit of passion and empathy. It is also a great way to get outside of oneself for a while and see the world through the lives of another. Like many of you, I see myself as someday being a part of a community like that which I experienced today at Reagan. Why not make that day sooner than later?

Oh and by the way, the guy sleeping – was he a student? Nope. Just a concerned parent doing literally everything in his power to show his children that he cares.

No comments: