For the last 4 weeks, I’ve been offering a not-an-extended-day enrichment program for an hour each morning and a science program for an hour after school three days a week. During my home-visits, I signed up almost all my students and attendance started out strong, over 20 students to each session. It has since dropped off and now hovers around 15. Not bad but not satisfactory and I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating the students’ problem. Some of it stems from the realization that 7:20 to 4:10 is a long day or that 7:20 or 4:10 is too early or too late for the varied demands of their family. But I've found that for most, the lack of participation stems from the realization that school, even when Mr. AB is teaching what he wants to teach and even when he does everything in his power to make it fun, is still school.
Much to my horror, it took more than a few conversations with the kids who come and the kids who don’t to realize that a lot of my kids just don’t like school. It’s nothing I do or don’t do, as far as I can tell, it’s just that they don’t want to be there. (And I can’t make them come to the not-an-extended-day, thank you union.) Unfortunately, though, liking school seems to correlate very significantly with succeeding at it. See, the 40% of my students that show up each morning and stay late are already the higher performing 40%. After looking at my recent unit-test results, it’s clear to me that my efforts are simply widening the gap in my class. But of course, at my school, having 40% on grade-level would still be a tremendous improvement.
So much like I contemplated with regards to math leveling, the question becomes: When everyone is poor, is it okay for the rich to get richer?
While in most cases I answer “No,” I think I might give myself a bit of an exception in this case. There’s a few reasons for this: first and most importantly, programming, preparing and sustaining whatever educational Disneyland would be required to keep my worst students voluntarily coming at 7:20 in the morning and effectively closing their enormous basic skills gap is just beyond me right now; also, the return on investment by exploring math applications, chess, poetry, and Shakespeare with my high kids seems like it’s going to be a lot greater than with my low kids who, sadly, still don’t get it even when it’s fun; finally, I just plain enjoy these kids, their attitude and their dedication gets me up and gets me there smiling. I don’t have to bribe them, I don’t have to threaten them, they come because they want to come, they learn because they want to learn. Why should I let my ideals stand in their way?
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