What I learned during my first day at Educon 2.2
First and foremost, the students at SLA respect their teachers. They believe their teachers are smart, work hard, care about them, are creative, know a lot about them as individuals, and won’t let them get away with crappy performances. They (ok, the twelve kids I talked to individually about this) buy in to the program – they believe they are on to something great and that “the world is driven by inquiry. Without having questions and being able to share what you find out, I mean, what would the world be?”
As a public school, SLA represents the racial diversity of Philadelphia, but these are not “typical kids.” According to a student, they apply, interview, present a project and, some students are turned away. The ones who are accepted take it as an honor. However, some students are still seen as “slackers” by their peers and none of the kids I talked to really remembers or knows about anyone getting kicked out.
The tour guides I encountered were great. They were very personable, articulate, knowledgeable about the school, and committed to the vision. They thought it was a big deal to have the job of showing off their school. When I asked (three different ones) if they were only supposed to take us to the good classes, the response I got was, “Well, all of our classes are good.” One guide said, “Don’t get me wrong, some are better than others but my worst class here is better than my best class in my last school.” I pushed him to answer “why?” “Because, here you always know what the teacher wants and what they are going to do to help you – which is a lot. In my last school, half the time I didn’t know what the teacher REALLY wanted.”
I asked one student, “Is there a lot of discipline here?” He answered immediately, “Oh yeah.” Then I asked, “Do kids get kicked out?” He said, “No, kids HAVE a lot of discipline. I’m sorry I didn’t understand your question.” This exchange was precious.
Of all of the conversations I had with kids today, perhaps the most telling were the ones around the question, “Could your old school be like SLA or is there something special about this place?” Overwhelming, the SLA kids think their old schools could be like SLA if the teachers there cared more and tried a little harder to connect with them. There was not a kid one who mentioned the technology or the relationship with Franklin Institute when asked this question.
See the pictures I took at SLA, a school with teachers who care about their kids, today at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rjf7g/sets/72157623186342459.