Recently, a Choice School Leader from Benton Harbor Charter School Academy in Benton Harbor, MI sent out a message to his staff that not only inspired us, but reminded us of why our work is so needed. When a message this good lands in your inbox, you can’t help but share it. Take a read.
From the Desk of Principal Tim Harris… a true story of poverty, diversity, and restrictedness 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. Sometimes the teacher is in control 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 lies 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 – yes.
However, 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 read… No 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? Benton Harbor Charter School Academy, an urban school managed by Choice Schools Associates (CSA), has adopted the Accelerated Schools model to provide inclusiveness to their 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 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 focus into their 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.”