Sunday, November 6, 2011

School success comes in different degrees

"Reform Education" is a political football, like so many issues are now. Unfortunately, there are actual young Americans in the middle of that playing field, and some of them are being trampled.
I teach at an alternative school, and many of my graduates have gone on to make something of themselves, they are taxpaying citizens rather than wards of the state, but they came to my school because that result wasn't likely should they have stayed at their previous "traditional" schools.
This article holds up another such youngster who just needed the chance.

Published in the Denver Post earlier this year...
School success comes in different degrees
By Michelle Ancell

More than 3,600 students just graduated from Cherry Creek School District. Many of the graduates won scholarships, were honored for their grades and were bestowed with mementos for their achievement.
But Chris Moore, also a 2011 Cherry Creek School District graduate, wasn't one of them. Moore graduated in a tiny ceremony earlier this year as his grandparents and dad watched.
There were no special cords draped around him for his grades, no special honors for sports or extracurricular activities, and no scholarships. But sometimes simply getting out of bed and arriving at school is an accomplishment. And sometimes putting one foot in front of the other, going to class and staying out of trouble is nothing short of a miracle.
In an era when adults are highly critical of education, and we're pushing for more, bigger, better, we sometimes forget that the test scores, the grades and the achievements are products of the kids themselves. Those kids are a product of their environments.
The lucky ones never have to worry about divorce, mental illness, money, the war in Iraq, sexual abuse and other social ills.
But we still expect achievement and growth from kids who do experience hardship — the kid with a learning disability, the one with the alcoholic mother, the one who was raped. Kids with heartbreaking stories go to our schools, too.
So the question becomes: What is outstanding performance? How do you define achievement? I wonder about the successes we reward, and how we can start looking beyond ratings and statistics to appreciate the successes of public schools.
Which gets me back to Chris Moore. Earning a high school diploma is a tribute to the determination and resolve this quiet kid carries. It's a nod to the staff at his school, the Special Programs Center (or PREP), an alternative middle and high school program in the Cherry Creek district.
Earning a high school diploma is a tribute to Moore's mother, who helped him find PREP and wouldn't let him drop out.
Life got complicated for Moore when he was in middle school and discovered his once high-achieving big brother smoking pot and taking crystal meth. Chris watched the drugs eat away at his brother's ambition and swore that drugs would never take him down, too.
But Moore didn't fit in at his traditional middle and high schools. He dropped out for a while. "The kids I'd known forever got into drugs, too," he said. "I felt so alone."
Then his family suffered financial hardship, including the loss of their house. Moore and his dad worked side-by-side at Dairy Queen for awhile, then both moved on to Sunflower Farmers Market. Neither was too proud to stock shelves or wipe counters.
His mom finished some community courses and landed a well-paying job as a surgical assistant.
"When he arrived at PREP, Chris was quiet and pretty much kept to himself," said his counselor, Carolyn Crouch. "But we gradually saw a change in him. His grades improved. He emerged as a leader on campus. Chris was vocal about his positive life choices, not drinking or doing drugs."
His first-quarter's grades at the school were the highest he had in years, nearly all A's. But the night before his first prom, Moore's mom died of a heart attack.
Moore, at 18, lives alone. He plans to join the Army then eventually become a police officer.
Real kids like Chris come into our schools every day. How should we accurately measure their successes? And how should the educators who work with these kids be evaluated? What measure can you place on inspiration and compassion?
Lawmakers and policymakers shouldn't forget to look beyond ratings and statistics when evaluating the success of an institution, or an individual. You may have to dig a little, but those successes are there.
Chris Moore is absolutely a high achiever, and the adults at his school should be commended for helping him have a shot at a bright future.
Michelle Ancell of Aurora is a freelance writer and owner of Write Now Communications.

Read more: Colorado Voices: School success comes in different degrees - The Denver Post
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