Today I had the privilege to accompany two Montessori seniors (Joanna and Vishnell) as they lead a roundtable discussion around their unique experience in starting a new high school. They spoke openly and honestly about the struggles and the enormous benefits of their trail-blazing experience.
Together we sat in an advisory at World Journalism Preparatory High School in Bayside Queens with fifteen freshmen boys. The question which directed most of our discussion was, “What is high school supposed to be like?”
By affirming the fact that all teachers, students, and parents come to school with preconceived notions of what “school” is, all members of the group were immediately empowered. They recognized their conceptions of “school” come from hearsay, the media and former teachers mostly.
Vishnell and Joanna both shared their own notion of high school. Their comments included “a safe place to express ideas” and “moving out of comfort zones.” They reflected on particular experiences they encountered here at the Queens High School of Teaching. Often their reflections were amazing tributes to the faculty here at QHST.
The students from WJPHS seemed genuinely interested in listening to our students. The body language of the group which at first was one of cautious disconnect swiftly turned to one of intense reception as Vishnell shared her story of discontent with QHST on her first day of school.
Ironically Vishenell fought to be transferred out of QHST while Joanna’s parents were pressuring the region to place her in QHST. Joanna focused on the amazing opportunity afforded to her through the writing center as opposed to Vishnell’s focus on the access to adult attention in a small learning community.
Any teacher who has the opportunity to hear the stories of their struggle to define QHST as its first graduating senior class should take the time to listen. I personally walked away from this before school Monday morning meeting re-energized and ready to start off another week.