Last week I went to my last curriculum night/open house at my younger daughter’s school, Lakeview Junior High. After twelve years of attending these events in Center Cass School District 66 (my older daughter started at Elizabeth Ide School in 2003), it’s high time that I publicly thanked all the excellent teachers my daughters have had over that span. In a nutshell, we don’t appreciate or pay these people nearly enough.
Tuesday’s presentations were outstanding, but hardly unusual from my experience. I started in science, where we learned of how the school is making use of new technology through Google Classroom, which will enable both students and parents to know what’s going on in class from any computer. My daughter’s science teacher, who also happens to be getting her Master’s in educational technology, explained how this would enable everyone to keep informed. The school is additionally making videos to introduce new material the night before the material is used and analyzed in class. This will allow for more individualized instruction as the teachers can focus on those who struggled with the new ideas while those who understood it well from the video presentation can move along with the assignments to reinforce the concepts.
I then moved to physical education, where the teachers are continuing their exemplary program of physical activity and health. The only complaint I have about the junior high is that they did change their scheduling so that health is no longer separate from P.E., meaning that they have to switch from P.E. every four weeks for two weeks of health, instead of having P.E. all the time with health being one of their rotating classes that used to meet for one trimester each school year. When the school added a STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) course and switched to quarters instead of trimesters a couple of years ago, P.E. and health were combined. But the program is still excellent with effort and fitness being prized over athletic skill—just because you aren’t talented in sports shouldn’t mean you can’t do well in P.E. as long as you are giving your all—which is the best way to help students focus on their overall health instead of who can run the fastest.
Math was next, and here we learned that not only has this class moved to Google Classroom as well, but also that the on-line math program the students now use for homework will help to make sure they learn the material. They select the answer to problems from four choices, which might initially seem like a recipe for random guessing with no understanding, but the program and the teachers are more sophisticated than that. After two wrong answers, the students have to do a review problem. Additionally, the teacher will be checking their math journals to see if they have shown their work. Finally, the program keeps track of how much time the student spent on each problem, so the teacher can check to make sure the kids didn’t rush through the work. “Um, Esther, you got the right answer, sure, but you spent five seconds on this problem. Can you explain how you did all the calculations that fast? Hmm, that’s what I thought.” As with many of the curriculum improvements selected by the school, this will require more work from the teachers both to learn the new software and to check up on all the students; but the District 66 teachers have never shied away from hard work.
This was evident again in fourth period, Art. In a class where many have few expectations for anything other than creativity and stress relief, the students get schooled in many aspects of the arts. They learn about perspective, color, and shadowing, to name a few basic concepts; but they also learn about using oils, water colors, computer graphics, and design programs. Despite only meeting for a semester a year, the kids will study various world famous artists, not to mention finding out about all the careers that make use of the various skills they have been learning. From projects to an awareness of how art impacts their daily lives, Lakeview students find out that art can transform both their cultures as well as their way of looking at things. Take that, all you “art is just an ‘extra’ class” people!
Social studies was next, and here we found how much more than mere dates and battles this course should be. Their first unit goes over the brain and how humans learn, so that the kids have a foundation for understanding how they acquire and use knowledge. We parents learned that the emphasis will be on cultural influences rather than ruling parties in order to provide the students with the background to recognize their own values and how they interact with the rest of the world. From the classical music in the background to the explosion of images on the walls, this social studies classroom reflects its teacher’s commitment to inundating the students with opportunities to learn about themselves and the world.
Sixth and seventh periods were my daughter’s co-taught English/Language Arts class. While all the presentations had been polished, this was a tour-de-force of articulate, interesting, and informative speech. Without notes, the teacher was able to explain class goals, the curriculum, procedures, and some of the books to be used in class. Even more impressive was the fact that one of the co-teachers had gone home ill, so the other teacher had to do all the talking, something she excelled at doing, but probably hadn’t been the original plan. The only downside to this masterful presentation was the fact that only six parents of the twenty-something children in the class were in attendance. As an ex-English teacher myself, I was truly impressed with how well this overview was done.
Finally, eighth period came, and we learned of the myriad activities students will do in Consumer Education. From cooking to organization to cleaning to nutrition, the students will get a great background in learning to fend for themselves in the kitchen as well as balancing all the tasks the modern world demands we take on. Not only will they learn all this, but my daughter will get to plan, shop for, prepare, and serve her family a complete dinner before the semester is over. Now that’s homework parents can truly love.
These levels of competence, enthusiasm, cutting-edge knowledge, and friendliness have been constants throughout my daughters’ time in Center Cass School District 66 over the years. To keep this essay as positive as possible, I won’t get into the unfairness that this awesome staff gets paid much less than teachers in high school districts do, a lot less. (I go over that in much detail in my eBook, excerpts of which can be found at http://www.snowflake-schools.com/.) But I did want to point out what a terrific job these people do, and have been doing for as long as my kids have been in the district. This was my last open house at District 66 since my daughter will graduate (we hope, anyway) in June. So before we leave, thank you, District 66 teachers; you have done a fantastic job, and my daughters will be positively influenced by your hard work and superior examples for the rest of their lives. Long may you teach!