samedi, novembre 14, 2009

The South Philly No Complaining Rule

No nets on the basketball hoops for the ball to slide sweetly through.

How can you shoot and score when there is nothing at which to aim?

How 'bout castles with 21st-century-compounds providing a floor so that children wouldn't hurt themselves if they fell off the watch-towers?

You gotta be kidding.

This "playground" didn't have swings, slides, or a painted area for hopscotch.

But boy-oh-boy, did the dark floors on the school's first floor, probably dating to the 19th-century, glow.

Children's artwork clustered on walls built around the time my grandmother was born. I thought again and again, how comfortable she would have felt in this environment, the lissome blond librarian with the long skirts, throwing herself into her work with the same energy and joy she did pretty much anything.

If she thought the library could have used a wee bit of updating, she would have organized workers into a union to make sure the job was well done, and the workmen got good wages.

But this school shimmers with energy, and much of it emanates from the principal's office. Only to understand what he's been able to do requires some of us to tweak our middle-class lenses.

Out here in the western 'burbs, we question the "No Child Left Behind Act" and talk about unfunded mandates -- but generally our schools continue to produce large numbers of students who exceed the requirements.

The principal here has some honors students -- 42, I believe. But a major achievement has been raising the percentage of students with acceptable basic PSSA scores from the 30's to the 70s. That has all happened since he became school leader.

Poverty. Long-term unemployment. Streets that aren't as safe as they could be. Kids who have to cope with unstable family environments. It gives me mental vertigo to contrast the daily challenges some of these students confront with those of my daughter, say, for whom a crisis is not having a ride to youth group. Or my son, who responds to having left something at his father's house by asking casually if dad could come drop it off.

And there are other challenges. In the past few years, Philadelphia has deep sixed its middle schools -- so that students stay in one place from kindergarten (or Head Start) to eighth grade. Although there are positives and negatives, that means big changes for staff and students.

How does Mr. E. tackle the stumbling blocks his students face? By running a very tight ship, in which succeeding is the only option.

As we sat in his office, he gave us umbrellas with the school's logo -- and a copy of a book which seems compatible with his philosophy. "The No Complaining Rule" by Jon Gordon is about a mythical company that refused to take negativity for an answer.

And maybe, in some way, I am part of the chain of positive results. He heard about my offer to provide some library money as he sat in a meeting in which they were coming up with some ideas for rehabilitating the large, but shabby room. When he first heard about it, he thought the person who told him was joking, said Mr. E. But once he realized that the woman wasn't joking, he began to realize that they really could recarpet, and put the catalogue on the computer, and put in some colorful nooks so that students could read there.

It doesn't seem like a lot of money, I said, feeling embarassed. "It is to us" he said simply.

And you know what? I can't wait to see what he and his teachers and administration are going to do to with it.

Anyone want to kick in for some basketball hoops?

2 commentaires:

norman.pease a dit…

sure, I'm in for 50 bucks. Where to send it?

Offcenter a dit…

Randy, thank you! I'm going to write Mr. E., and I'll get back to you about this offline.