“If only the parents would send us better kids!”
That would be a crazy thing for a principal of a school to say, but to some degree it represents what public high schools have said for decades. At PSC, our staff believes every single student who walks in our door deserves our very best, regardless of personal background, past academic achievement or academic needs. We do not interview a student and their family and see if they will ‘measure up’ to our standards…We open our doors, provide hope and whatever supports are needed and begin to work with them with a goal of 100 per cent of our kids will graduate. Period!
High schools of the past may best be described as filters, they separated those that can from those that can’t. We would never say only those that are good strong athletes can take physical education. Why would we say only those that already know math can only take math. It is ridiculous, but in days gone by, those students that were not being successful would be ‘withdrawn’ or simply failed and walk away with all the responsibility being placed upon them for their success or failure. In today’s schools, we try everything to get them through and we share in the responsibility as teachers, students and parents. It may surprise some readers that the same students who fail the provincial PAT in Grade 9 somehow end up passing the Bio 30 exam and get into university. I can tell you it happens consistently at our school. We do not filter them to other schools or let them drop out without any intervention at all; we figure out what they need and then work tirelessly to get them there, and when they mess up and do something stupid, we don’t cast them aside and let someone else deal with them; we pick them up, dust them off and send them back with even more support.
What the results that have been published do not show you are some of the ‘other’ facts; the fact that many of the students in Grade 9 that come to us directly into Grade 9, come with a very limited educational background. Many read at levels from Grade 2 to Grade 5. If we were to filter the kids, our results most certainly would be better, but our society would not. Somehow the most dedicated group of people I have ever worked with, our teachers, take the results you have seen in Grade 9 and get them through to graduation, no matter what.
One may ask why the dropout rate in Alberta is so high. The answer is quite simple, high schools don’t work for everyone. So why is PSC different, perhaps is it in the environment we are creating, the so called “open classroom” (whatever that is) creates a warmth and support that our students appreciate and they want to be here as opposed to the institutions of old? Or perhaps is it the fact that the “Fridays off”, which are being questioned, are when this staff looks at every single student, one by one, and tries to figure out what each individual needs to help them achieve success? Or maybe is it the fact that on those same Fridays, we try to find answers as dedicated professionals on how to get students who are in Grade 9 to read, even if it’s only at a Grade 6 level? In the good old days, a teacher taught just social or chem or bio, now a teacher teaches kids and not subjects.
Our school has undergone a lot of adversity and challenge; I have watched as students and staff have attended funerals and celebrations, and each time, I am reminded of what really matters. Not that a mark on a PAT is unimportant, it is. But it is just that, a mark that measures, on that one day, how much they know, and provides us a pretty good starting place for what to do now. Could the results be better? Yes. Do we give up? No. What we seek is support from our parents, students and community to help us achieve our potential; frankly this staff and the students deserve it.
We can blame technology, but really is that the problem; and if it is, we as parents need to share in the responsibility to help fix it. We can blame Fridays off, but your kids do the same hours in the classrooms as they always have, but now teachers spend another day trying to figure out how to help. If we go back to removing those Fridays, our school day gets shorter and is spread out over 10 days, not nine. So, not sure that is the answer either. Maybe it’s society, maybe that’s to blame, or video games, or relationship breakdown, numbers of divorces, television, movies, drugs…and the list goes on. But when results are not what we want them to be, we look to blame something or someone. I get it and take full responsibility for our results, but it won’t convince me to return to the days of old where we filter out the bad ones, so we make ourselves look better when a newspaper reporter or the Fraser Institute decides to point out test scores.
And finally, some things can’t be measured by a test and I will tell you we have the greatest kids I have ever had the honour of working with. While we don’t always agree, they work with us and remind me and our staff every day why we do this.
We want to provide strong citizens in our community who show character and integrity. While we certainly want ones that are educated and achieve high academic standing, my wish for all students is success, whatever that means to them. We want students to leave our school as ethical, entrepreneurial and engaged citizens, ready for any challenge that lays ahead. In that regard, you have a school that every Christmas season goes about creating hope and joy with its Santas Anonymous drive which feeds and provides Christmas for well over 100 families in our community, delivered to your door, by PSC kids; kids that for no other reason than to help a custodian, pick up a shovel and clear a front entrance of snow, kids who put on the most remarkable Remembrance Ceremony in the province and are nationally recognized for their work, kids that raise thousands of dollars for a variety of causes each year, and a staff that inspires and with the help of every parent, creates young people that I am very proud of, even if they failed a PAT.
We can always do better and I can tell you we consistently look for how to do just that, but before we cast stones, I invite every single community member into our school for a day, see what we do, see what we are trying and then see the evidence that success is everywhere, and simply thank a teacher and encourage a kid.
Ponoka Secondary Campus