Don Roach: My Education Crusade - Finding the Secret Sauce
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
I pride myself on not being easily impressed, but let me walk you through my visit. I arrived as the students were getting dropped off. Director of External Affairs, Jen LoPiccolo, asked me if I wanted to observe “handshakes” which they do every day. In my world a handshake occurs when one system speaks to another validating data transfer, I was shocked that teachers were outside literally shaking hands with students. Students were asked, “how are you doing today?”
An answer of “good” was usually not sufficient and eye contact was also required. In most cases the students also asked how the teachers were doing. It was an assembly line of handshakes and while I participated, I often fumbled over my words while the students would wait for me to properly address and respond to them.
I didn’t need to ask Executive Director, Jeremy Chiappetta, the purpose behind the handshakes even though he was eager to tell me how he wanted (paraphrased) the kids to understand that they were leaving the home environment and entering a place of learning, to teach them to look adults in the eye, and to show them how to enter school with a good attitude.
Succeeding on purpose
I told Chiappetta that the intentionality of handshakes was simple but probably quite effective. He said the school’s intention is to expect the very best from kids and create a culture to do just that. A number of times the students were called “scholars” instead of students. That’s another intentional word choice and such things are part of everyday vernacular at BVP.
Chiappetta and team have determined that nothing is impossible for scholars and their roles as teachers are to help facilitate their progress towards succeeding in college.
From “handshakes”, I went to the cafeteria where I observed students engaged in a number of call and response games, even leading some themselves. Two things struck me, the student population at BVP is incredibly diverse and second, the teacher leading the exercise seemed to know every child’s name. There had to be at least 150 students ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade in the cafeteria at the time so learning all the names of the children can’t be a small task.
I cannot stress enough how much success is a result of purpose filled actions at BVP. From handshakes to giving children opportunities to lead from the amount of homework and on and on, BVP is incredibily intentional about the way scholars are taught.
Parents talk empowerment
I also had an opportunity to speak with a few parents and they spoke of feeling empowered as parents and how empowered their children are. One parent spoke of her child being able to contact a teacher after hours. Another spoke about how the scholars help each other.
But while you’d think these parents would be content enough that their own children were in a school that was successful, each of the four spoke about how all of Rhode Island’s children were there concern. It didn’t seem like lip service because I was in the room but appeared to be a sincere desire to see children to succeed. Community was also another term the parents spoke about and how important the partnership between scholars, parents, teachers, and all other workers at BVP is. For example, if a student is called on in class and doesn’t know the answer they can “call in a friend” for assistance.
From empowerment to a sense of community, I wonder how many children at some of our failing schools feel “empowered” or that they are part of a thriving community? I wonder.
Funding is not the secret sauce
We’re often told how education is all about the numbers. Well, BVP debunks that notion. BVP’s per pupil expenditures are one of the lowest in the state. Nevertheless, they have the highest NECAP marks in the state. This leads me to believe that funding is not the problem. Chiappetta told me that he’d love more funding, but I don’t believe additional funding is the “secret sauce” to success.
If it were, BVP should be performing far worse than best-in-state. When I visited a few classes, none of the classrooms seemed focused on “teaching to the test”. A math class focused on probability by having the students work in partnerships while another class had kids reading passages aloud. But, beyond this the difference at BVP is clear.
One – parents are involved.
Two – students are empowered and expected to succeed.
Three – teachers are accessible.
Four – students, teachers, parents, and administrators form a community partnership.
Five – expectations for each student is incredibly high.
Are any of these aspects of BVP possible to bring to other schools across the state? You better believe it, but at one of my children’s school when my son needed additional help the response was “get a tutor”. That’s not a partnership, that’s something very different.
If the school that receives one of the least amounts of funding per student can achieve the best test results in the state, perhaps we should try to learn something from them. In my short time there last week, I did. I learned there’s a secret sauce at BVP, but it’s really not a secret and it’s something schools across the state could implement.
The question is why don’t we do this in more schools?
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