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Summer School

Recently, I tried to encourage my daughter to take a summer school class.  We moved to a new state and a new school during the end of her eighth grade year and I thought taking a class at the high school would give her a chance to get to know some kids and the school.  Neighbors in the community shared with me that it was a good program and lots of kids took class to get some of their electives out of the way and to get ready for high school.  My daughter’s response was an emphatic, “No!”   It didn’t surprise me.  Much to my dismay, my daughter hates school.  Much of this is due to the fact that despite her love of learning, she learns much differently than her peers.  Part of this is also due to her dyslexia and a lifetime of academic stress, which is often misunderstood by her teachers.  What did surprise me however was the response I got after I tried to further the case for summer school.

“Mom, I said No!  I can learn so much better outside of school.  Don’t you see how much I am learning when I work with the horses at the barn?  I can write my own stories.  I can read what I want to read.  I can do real things.  Summer is my time to learn, why would I waste it going to summer school.”

At first I didn’t really hear these words.  I kept thinking about how I wanted her to get a head start, I wanted her to meet good kids, I wanted her to get extra credits.  But when I stopped and reflected on her words, I have to admit that she has a point.  My daughter comes alive in the summer.  She writes incredible stories, she draws, she organizes community events, she plays, runs and works.  The cold, apathetic face that greets me most days when she gets off the bus is replaced with a glow and a sparkle in her eye.  In the summer, my daughter is an engaged learner.  In school, she is merely a survivor, compliant at best.  Before my work with 4 special boys I probably would have ignored this comment and signed my daughter up for summer school anyway.  Now however, I have come to realize that paying attention to the learner and their needs is our first obligation as teachers.  If I put EXPLORE to work here, I must acknowledge that my daughter has excellence and potential.  The next step is to look for the opportunity, resources and environment to support it.  Summer school probably isn’t the best option, but we agreed that she would set a commitment to work with the horses down the street, continue her writing and get involved in a program where she can get some feedback and critique on her writing, and do a book club with friends.  It’s not summer school and she won’t get any credit or grades, but perhaps the larger gain is that she is an engaged and happy learner.

As an educator, this scenario forces me to consider the fact that much of what we do in school may have little or no meaning or value for students.  Our role is not just to prepare students for college but to inspire them to be life long learners.  My catch phrase for this blog is “Inspiring a thirst for learning and scholarly habits.”  I first grabbed onto the idea of making kids thirsty after hearing Manny Scott, on of the original freedom writers (http://www.mannyscott.com//#/page/1) speak during our teacher workshop week.  He talked about the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,” and how teachers use that with kids saying we can’t make them want to learn.  He agreed that you can’t make a horse drink, but anyone with a horse background will tell you that you can make it thirsty.  My goal in teaching is to make kids thirsty.  To make school feel like summer….and to make what we do in school extend into summer.  I want my students to be excited to come to school and about the learning and growing they are experiencing in my classroom.  If it takes a little bit of summer like fun to make that happen, I’m all in!

What are your students telling you that you are not able to hear because of the focus on systems or academic requirements?  Do your students need summer school or does your school need a little more summer?

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