Where The Village Helps Support Each Child
By Christy Levings, NEA Executive Committee
The morning of March 2, 2011 rocked with excitement as hundreds of second and third graders put on red and white Dr Seuss Cat in the Hat hats! They filled a theater in downtown High Point, North Carolina, where they cheered over stories and a huge Cat in the Hat that made them giggle and shout.
I followed, with my team of great NEA staff, the students at Oak Hill Elementary back to their school that afternoon. We came to see the work at this SIG school that choose a turnaround model to work with its hugely diverse student group. Oak Hill serves a student population that is roughly 80% minority students and nearly 40% of the students are English Language Learners. Although Spanish is the most common first language, they come to school with 14 languages in their homes.
This school has been rated as one of the lowest performing elementary schools in North Carolina and has made AYP only once in the last five years. In reading all of that you might expect to find a staff that felt the burden of their work or at least seemed daunted by the task at hand to get these students up to grade level on tests designed for learners with fewer challenges.
The energy at Oak Hill jumped out and grabbed you as you entered the door. The school hummed and moved as nearly 400 students were involved in their learning and their teachers used their skills and talents to show these children to think and to learn. A tour of the school showed the faculty using every inch of the space in that building as a learning tool and showcase for student work. It is not a new building but it was warm, clean, colorful, and child centered.
The leadership of the building is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, Patrice Faison, who now in her principal role brings that knowledge of reflective and effective teaching to her high-energy support for the educators in the building. We meet with community and parent volunteers who work every week to support and help the principal and staff get the resources and help they need to help each child and their family when needed. It was a great example of the village reaching out to help support each child because they know their city and state will be better in the future, if all these students are successful.
At the end of the day, we meet with the entire faculty for some discussion of their work. After a long day that was not finished as after-school tutoring and planning was yet ahead for them, they talked willingly about their work. When I asked them what message I should give Secretary Duncan for them they answered almost in unison: “Tell the policy makers in D.C. that we need help to overcome the effects of poverty.”
This staff is willing to take on the challenges in the classroom and be accountable for the outcome of their students’ work. It is the economic and social factors outside the school, which affect their students’ ability to learn that they needed help with to give each student a fair chance to be successful in life. They know that the school alone cannot overcome these challenges in their community. I wonder in this day of testing gone overboard if anyone is listening to these great professionals.