It’d Be a Lie to Say . . .

. . . that drop-out reports don’t increase the alarm and rhetoric about the “drop-out problem” as we lurch further into this political season.

I cringe every time a new monthly drop-out report finds its way to my desk. The names, some of which I associate with faces, leap from the pages like ghosts from the past.

One of the recent strategies we have implemented is the exit interview for those students (and their parents) wishing to cut ties early with our high school.

I learn good information during these conversations: Too much girl drama going on…classes start too early…my kid doesn’t work well in a rules-based system…he hates this place…she’s bored…father’s an alcoholic…mom didn’t finish high school either…junior’s gotta work to cover his car insurance…we can’t get him outta bed in the morning…

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Yesterday afternoon, I had to get out of my office.So after we loaded and rolled the afternoon buses, I strolled out to the back 40 where our spring sports teams are in the early stages of practice. The shot putters where heaving heavy shot. The pole vaulters rehearsed their approach techniques. The sprinters and hurdlers ran sets.

JV and varsity girls soccer players braced against the wind to hear the coach’s instructions. JV and varsity softball players worked through conditioning and batting cage drills. JV and varsity baseballers took batting practice.

In the student parking lot, the NJROTC counted drills in precise cadence. The rappers and rockers emerged from the auditorium after yet another rehearsal for the pending talent show.

In the distance, the rat-a-tat-tat of the percussion ensemble rolled like gentle thunder.

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Getting out of my office for an afternoon walk is invigorating and yields great rewards. I get to see all the talent and potential in full bloom on our campus—even well after the school’s academic hours have concluded.

The students I see have connected with teams. Their connections keep their days ever more productive; their relationships, ever stronger. They are participating in life in real-time, real-space.

They are not sitting in isolation, plugged into laptop monitors, thumbing numbing text messages to their friends, swinging Wii wands, or stupefied in front of TV screens. Their formative years extend un-virtualized in specialized environments marked by boundary lines, supervised by adults, and governed by rules. Their sweat, pain, chills and thrills are in direct response to their efforts and energies in organized sports, clubs and activities.

I salute the thirteen coaches/leaders who orchestrate these late-winter, late-afternoon opportunities on our sprawling campus.

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I switch back to the names on the drop-out roster. Where are those young people this afternoon? Are their lives so much the better outside of the system they vehemently detest? What teams are they now on and who are their teammates? What leaders are they following?

Tomorrow, I will once again hear the news reports of how American high schools are not adequately serving the drop-out population. With all the options and opportunities we already have on our campus every season of the school year, I can not help but think it is not exclusively the school that has failed these students.

It would be a lie to say that effective schools don’t offer a wide variety of opportunities and options that keep students connected to life-long learning.

In an ideal world, every student would come to high school prepared with the support, attitudes, habits, values, and competencies that promote curricular, extra-curricular, and ultimately real-world success.

In the real world, our goal in public education is to help those that do and those that don’t.

It would be a lie to say that all of those personal assets and attributes are only developed and shaped inside the school walls.

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