Wednesday, May 21

Elementary Schools--Global to Microbe--My, How You Have Changed!!!

Question: What do these two photos have in common?

Answer: They would not be found in most schools 20 years ago. 

These two photos, taken at John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, tell some of the story of how schools have changed today.  I had the opportunity to tour this school with a colleague while observing the tutoring program funded partially by RunningBrooke, an organization on whose board I serve. 

There are many elements of today's elementary schools that most of us adults would never have seen in the schools we attended.  At John Adams Elementary, there are around 900 students, many having come from the farthest reaches of our planet.  (In fact, nobody is sure how many native languages are spoken, but it’s well over 30.)  There is a strong focus on group work and the mingling of vastly diverse cultures and customs is commonplace.  Volunteers are fully engaged in numerous essential roles.   As in many elementary schools nationwide, educators must constantly address the wide range of developmental challenges facing their students, including those caused by childhood obesity.
During our tour, we discovered that the tutors and their students had been moved to other locations, as their cubby hole was needed for other purposes.  It was clear that every hallway, nook and cranny were being put to good use.  A visitor would never have guessed they had to close the school the week before due to flooding from spring storms, nor that they recently survived a virus epidemic that forced the closure of school.
Yet, despite it's challenges, some of the timeless elements of great schools everywhere are evident at John Adams:  the “air traffic controller” with a giant smile and a heap of common sense working on the front line in the office, student artwork (hoorah for Mr. Allread!), and gobs of kids and adults warmly greeting their visitors.  The volunteer leader and staff of the tutor program really understand how each kid learns to read differently and know how to meet each student at their specific level.  The continuing emphasis on reading as the fundamental building block for learning, thinking critically, growing, and contributing is unwavering and would make their school's namesake proud: 
“I read my eyes out and can't read half enough...the more one reads the more one sees we have to read.”
John Adams, The Letters of John and Abigail Adams
Thus, like some of the organizations with which I work, John Adams is an example of how a school facing new challenges can succeed with the right formula.  With a strong focus on educating each unique child, John Adams Elementary School remains a beehive of activity—organized chaos, energetic warmth, shared purpose, and a good dose of pragmatic idealism.  From my quick observations, and amidst a world filled with many overlapping cultures and easily spread germs, it appears to be a place that hums with purpose and harmony.

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