Overcoming At-Risk Situations, a note from principal Tim Harris

Tim Harris, principal at Benton Harbor Charter School Academy, is an inspirational leader and understands the culture and community of his school. He reminds the staff about what being part of the Benton Harbor Charter School family is all about and why their work is so crucial and valued. 

In his own words, he writes about the true story of poverty, diversity, and restrictiveness in the classroom.

“…Because I’m an educator, the inevitable failures (of our students) belong to me,” claimed principal Tim Harris as he explained the understanding of children in poverty to his colleagues. “However, we all know – and I mean all of us – that we are set up to fail because we are not addressing the real problems that confront us every day.”

Stepping into a classroom, you notice the teacher and the students. Sometimes they are in unison and sometimes they aren’t. Perhaps you walk into the perfect classroom, the teacher has strong classroom management skills; the students are attentive, learning, absorbing, and interested in the topic at hand. 

However, underneath the persona of a perfect classroom, there may lie unseen circumstances plaguing the students who occupy those neatly assembled desks. Within that classroom lies diversity, poverty, famishment, and lack of energy and attention.

Is it possible for a student to learn in a perfect environment when they’re suffering? The answer is yes.

Is it ideal? No.

Bridging the gap between home and school life is a difficult avenue to pursue. It takes the strength and determination of a thousand, but that can all be captured within one person – the teacher. Educators have a strong ability to see the inner workings of children. They are able to see the home life and to further notice the lack of support that may be occurring. There are students who are too hungry to stay awake.

There are students whose cynicism would bring us to tears if we had their view of the world,” continued Harris. “There are children who do not sleep in the same house every night. There are students too intimidated by their bold classmates to speak out; I want to learn… I am afraid to go home… Does anyone have a book I can readNo one hears my voice.

“Until we address the despair, the neediness, the yearnings, and the bitterness of so many of our students, we will fail them,” Harris reiterates.

But how does one begin to address these issues? We have adopted the Accelerated Schools model to provide inclusiveness to students’ education.

“It is our duty to exhaust all possible resources so that no child limited by poverty is also deprived of an education,” stated Harris.

The Accelerated Schools model sets high expectations for both the teachers, staff and the students, believing that there are not at-risk students, but only at-risk situations to which children are exposed. This model also works to improve educational achievements for students of minority and poverty by providing structure and more focus on learning. 

Furthermore, the Accelerated Schools model doesn’t slow instruction down in hopes of allowing students more time to grasp concepts. Instead, instruction is accelerated to keep students motivated and interested in the educational topics being explored.

“It is my belief that the most significant learning occurs where there is diversity,” explained Harris. “There is more work to be done. We must work together to provide inclusive and accelerated learning for all of our students.”