This was written by Sean Slade, director of Healthy School Communities at ASCD, a global association empowering educators to support the success of each learner.
By Sean Slade
For a while now, I have heard— and also said the words myself— that there are pockets of excellence all around the United States. This is true, there are great schools doing great things. However what is becoming clear is that there aren’t just pockets around the country, but rather excellence is everywhere: in every state, in every region, in every pocket of this country.
If you listened just to news about public education or read some of the briefs coming out from the U.S. Department of Education, you could be forgiven for thinking that that the country is overrun by “dropout factories” and “failing schools,” and that we are inundated by schools that need a dramatic “turnaround” or even a “takeover.” You would be justified in thinking that the state of our nation’s schools was in total decline and that there was little reason for cheer.
Actually, the truth is very different. ASCD just launched an interactive map showcasing outstanding schools around the country, capturing the stories of great schools, districts, and communities exhibiting and working toward a whole-child approach to education. These examples are changing the debates around education in their communities, and they deserve to have their voices heard.
What you will see when you read their stories is that they emphasize the needs of the whole child, making sure that they are actively working toward making school environments more welcoming, inclusive, and safe. They are deliberately expanding education beyond just the academic.
The map brings together examples from schools and districts that ASCD has noted and awarded, but it also highlights sites from our 60-odd partner organizations that work toward the same goals.
These are organizations that care about developing learners who are knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically active, artistically engaged, prepared for economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling. It is a belief that each child, in each school and in each community, deserves to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
And they are everywhere.
They are in Anchorage, Alaska, a four-time winner of whole child partner America’s Promise Alliance’s 100 Best Communities for Young People, which promotes student voice and strong community involvement. It has developed the Youth Advisory Commission and the Supportive Adult Relationships Coalition to help members of the Anchorage community voice their opinions and raise awareness about services, ranging from education to housing.
There's Worcester Technical High School in Massachusetts, which strives to prepare students to meet the challenges of a global society by promoting excellence across 24 different technical programs available to students. Although 65 percent of the student body is economically disadvantaged and 21 percent are students with special needs, Worcester Tech has still made AYP four years in a row, has decreased the dropout rate, and enrolls increasing numbers of students in honors or advanced placement courses.
The Oakland Unified School District was named the most improved urban school district in California, where Superintendent Tony Smith has made huge strides in implementing a four-phase effort to transition into a full-service community school district that supports the unique needs of each child. It’s the goal of the district to see that each student is in a safe, healthy, and supportive school with high-quality and effective instruction, along with the ability to be prepared for success in college and future employment.
Quest Early College High School, in Humble, Texas, is the winner of this year’s Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, which believes that a personalized and nurturing learning experience for all students is the foundational goal. Where the staff engage students by taking part in service learning, internships, and social actions that allow them to understand the relevance of what they learn and take ownership of their own learning.
This map is the start of a counterargument to show that our schools are not in crisis, nor in need of a complete overhaul. Every state has at least one example, and soon every county will too. There are untold stories and untold successes out there.
So next time you hear a conversation about the plight of our schools, tell them about what’s happening in your state or your district or your neighborhood — or right around the corner.
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