Thursday, November 15, 2012

LWC Education Day

On Nov. 9th I participated in Leadership Washington County's Education Day. The following is a brief and probably incomplete description of that day and some thoughts and questions I had throughout.

The thesis for the day was how does Washington County Public Schools prepare students for secondary education and skills development. To answer this question we visited 4 schools and heard from a variety of educators and administrators.

Our first stop was to the Marshall Street School which provides special education to students ages 3-21 who are in challenging cognitive and physical situations. Every student has a highly specialized IEP (Individualized Education Program). Most class sizes are very small and have at least one teacher and one assistant (sometimes a nurse) present at all times, depending on the needs of the students in the class. I was blown away by the amount of energy and compassion that the teachers, administrators, staff are required to bring with them each and every day.

Seeing this school and seeing how the classes were conducted and how the students were treated inevitably made me wonder: what if all students - not just those we label as having special needs - were given an IEP? What if all students got to take classes where the student:teacher ratio was 1:4? I know the immediate answer is most likely, "because it costs too much" but it's still something worth thinking about and I think it's something worth striving for, as well.

Our next stop was to another specialized school, the Washington County Technical High School. This school is home to some of Washington County's academic elite. I say "some" because in order keep class size low the Tech High can only accept a portion of the students who apply. I believe total enrollment is just below 500. We got to tour a couple of programs within the school - Biomedical Sciences; Computer Game Development & Animation; Digital Communications; Computer Networking and Repair. There are a couple of things I really loved about this school:
  1. Project-based learning
  2. Teachers as facilitators
  3. Focus is on learning not teaching/educating
One interesting tid-bit that I learned was that there is still quite a stigma attached to the idea of a Tech High School which causes parents to not encourage their kids to apply to the school because, "that's for kids who aren't college-bound..." As a result, the tech high faces recruitment challenges but they feel confident that word of mouth will help alleviate some of the stigma as time goes on - especially if those mouths are talking about how last year's biomedical class of 15 students were collectively awarded $1.6 million dollars in college scholarships (not including loans).

Our afternoon was spent in Boonsboro at the Elementary School and the High School. Our first stop was into a gifted and talented classroom where the teacher told us all about how the G&T program works, how students are labeled at G&T and then what kind of exercises they do in class - creative thinking, analogy building, etc. I loved it; it was like a mental playground.

At the high school we heard brief presentations from a variety of teachers and administrators. Mostly they talked about AP test prep, SAT/ACT prep, etc. The guidance counselor talked about % of students who apply to college, etc.

Then we walked back to the Elementary School to hear a panel of three gentlemen: the assistant superintendent of schools, a representative from HCC, and a representative from Kaplan University. I didn't get too much out of this portion of the day so, unfortunately, I do not have anything to report.

Some last thoughts/observations I had: I couldn't help but think of the poverty vs privilege debate from the Human Services Day back in October. For example, some folks might see the Marshall Street School students as disadvantaged but not me. They're receiving a huge benefit from the school; they've extremely privileged in terms of the education they're receiving. I'm not down-playing their life-situation but the Marshall Street School is an extremely admirable resource in the county. I also think of privilege in terms of intellectual privilege and the students who are accepted into programs at the Tech High. So, if the Marshall Street students and the Tech High students are the privileged ones, who are educationally impoverished? I guess I would say, in some instances, it's the students who fall in the middle, those who are not on either extreme of the bell curve. This could include students who do not flourish in a standard educational environment or students who aren't interested in attending college right after graduation. Does this mean we as a society place less importance or see less value in these individuals and members of our communities?

1 comment:

K Pfaff said...

Very interesting, Julie. I agree with your observation about the stigma attached to tech schools. I also enjoyed your idea about IEPs for all students. I've heard that some schools accept IEPs for gifted students, too. Often, children who fall below average are given a large supply of resources while the gifted students are overlooked because they're not struggling. However, those children deserve to have a challenging and engaging education, too! Thanks for sharing.