Long ago stories, chuckled at patronizingly today by many of the succeeding parental set, capture and convey the dread of children who observed teachers conversing with parents. This was even when memory searches failed to turn up any incidents of incriminating misconduct.
The graying ancients long for a return and the benefits of those hard, rewarding times.
Teachers need parents; students need a certain kind of parent; and schools and the national education system need everyone. It must be those overlapping, self-reinforcing partnerships or the pall of failure and nothing that follows in life. Now this brings us, Guyanese educators, Guyanese academic administrators, and Guyanese parents and students-to the wonderful example of Success Academy in New York City.
There are many lessons that could be gained by Guyanese students and families, especially the poor and struggling ones, and those yearning and dedicated to overcoming the many deficits of their tough situations.
Author Robert Pondiscio in his new book, “How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle over School Choice” tells the demanding and inspiring story of the culture cultivated by the Success Academy in the hardscrabble, crime ridden, corridor that is the Bronx, New York.
Several excerpts should help in laying out the Success Academy story with its intensities and hard-driving strategies. A warning is necessary: the sensitive and fastidiously correct should pause before venturing farther.
On the other hand, those parents keenly interested in giving their children the winning hand of an unmatchable boost should follow along closely.
From the very first day, the tone is set and in no uncertain terms. One principal greeted parents with, “It’s not Burger King. You can’t have it your own way” and by insisting to parents in a pre-enrollment meeting that: “It’s all or nothing. Nothing is optional.” Meaning that all is mandatory and not for discussion.
Try telling that to some Guyanese parents. Test readying is grueling, a continuing grind, so much so that author Pondiscio observed, “one student vomit (sic) all over his desk during the last practice exam.”
On the other hand, all the application, discipline and hard work pay off through spectacular results. The numbers tell their sweet story of how these low-income, low to no pedigree families master the challenges and measure up very well against the best in New York City with its public-school population of over a million students.
“Of 7,405 Success Academy kids in grades 3 to 8 who took the exams, 99% tested proficient or higher in math, 90% in English. By contrast, in schools run by the city Department of Education, 46% of students passed math, and 47% English.”
The students at Success Academy did better than their peers from more affluent communities, such as Westchester and Scarsdale. Affluent means many things: more money, more access to more tools, more facilities from the ground up, and every advantage in such wide-ranging areas as: crime, social services, quality of life indices, and a whole host of others.
A reasonable question is: what is it that the Success team (students, institution, and parents) do differently and which make it stand out and stand highly recognized?
In the words of Mr. Pondiscio, as articulated to the New York Post, “They do it by starting with a very exacting, demanding school culture that parents sign up for…”
The writer came well-equipped for the task, as he was a former public-school teacher in the sprawling New York City system; he received high-level clearance to spend“hundreds of hours observing classrooms, as well as faculty and parent meetings.”
From these came appreciation for the school’s promise that “kids will learn to think critically, get prepped for college, and never fall through the cracks.” All three elements-thinking critically, preparing for the tertiary level, and saving from self– are noteworthy for their lesser, than greater, presence in this country.
The emphasis is lopsidedly concentrated more on memorization and regurgitation than the interrogation. This is true even within the non-public schools locally.
Moreover, there is a nonnegotiable aspect of Success Academy’s system: discipline is a key component. GUYANESE PARENTS LISTEN UP! It is rigorous and unrelenting: “We do not tolerate hitting, biting, kicking, fighting, anything… and we suspend kindergartners if they do that. If you have a problem with that, this might not be the school for you.”
That was no nonsense principal, Eva Reeder emphasizing what she called “a marriage: between the school and parents”. Some marriage that is; and one that contrasts heavily with some of the ugliness that has seeped into several schools here, where parents are reported either to abuse teachers or to attack them physically. This happened just this past week, and for which there can be NO JUSTIFICATION.
Separately, parents through a contract executed with the school, commit to getting their children to school on time all the time, and to ensure that they are clothed from head to toe in the school’s uniform.
Parents have to read six books aloud each week to their younger children; ensure they are up on their spelling and math; and be prepared to receive and respond to a call, sometimes every night. Calls have a sequence: home phone, cellphone next, then a text or email or another call. This is rarely done here; nothing of the kind in either frequency or volume.
Reports are of teachers being too tough, sometimes abusive, other times lacking in empathy. Parents interested in giving their children a chance stay the course, if only to offer them the opportunity, skills, and self-confidence to compete at the next level, and “closing the ultimate Achievement gap in American life.”
Guyanese adults–from officials to parents to teachers–should find much that challenge and reveal how much more can be done here by all.
We, the adults, need to rethink and restructure so much of how we go about things in Guyana in education. Attitudes, mindsets, and efforts represent a good start.
Remember, and as touted far and loud, education is the passport to the future. To be clear: it is the future itself.
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