Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sharing Recent Student Shadowing Experiences

I find it hard to believe that it is already almost time for the Holiday break!  It has been a busy and productive first six months of my time here as your Superintendent of Schools.  Each Monday morning I still wake up and kinda pinch myself to make sure that this is not some dream of mine that I'll wake up from at any moment!  I am in awe each day of what a tremendous community, and a tremendous school system we have here in Gorham, and I feel privileged to have been accepted here so warmly by everyone.  Gorham is a true community that understands what it means to support one another during times of need, and to celebrate the accomplishments of its citizens when individuals go above and beyond in their respective service to this community.

The school system is a microcosm of the community as a whole.  So far this year, I have been very busy meeting new people and beginning to form initial relationships with community, parents, students, and staff.  We too have had our hard times where individuals and families have needed our support, and times when we have been able to step back and celebrate the accomplishments of our students, staff, and families.  As I visit our schools, wander through classrooms, and attend various school and community functions, it is clear to see that the strength of our school system is in our talented staff, our hard working students, and in our caring and supportive families.

I wanted to take this opportunity to share with all of you one of the exciting things I had a chance to do this past month.  Over the past several weeks, I was able to spend three days shadowing students at Gorham High School.  Before I share some of my learning, I want to take a moment to thank Mr. Record and the staff at GHS for putting up with their "undercover boss" for a few days!  I can imagine that having your boss show up unannounced in a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers might be a little nerve-wracking!  I'd also like to especially thank the three excellent students who allowed me to "hang out" with them at school, attending their classes, following them in the hallways, going to lunch, riding the bus, etc.  One student was a Freshman, one a Junior, and one a Senior - all very respectful, caring, and charismatic young people who I am proud to say represent the very best of our school system.

During my time shadowing students, I was able to go to Advisory class, Spanish classes, English, AP Calculus, AP Biology, and PATHS Vocational Programming (among other classes).  During one visit I was even able to sit down and take the Math NWEA testing - which was a particular challenge to me since I hadn't had an algebra class in over 20 years!  

It is amazing what you can learn about a school by simply taking the time to be in it, especially if you can catch a glimpse of it from the student's perspective and these students helped me to do just that!  They helped me to see some of the challenges they face like the crowded hallways when changing classes and the need for more intervention time to be built within the regular day's schedule for timely help in assignments.  They helped me to see how busy they were, with many students taking full class schedules (no study halls) while also involved in athletics and clubs and even working part time.  They also helped me to see just how much they love their teachers, and how much their teachers love them right back!  Students talked at length about how much they enjoyed the close relationships they felt with their teachers and how that made them work even harder to do even better.  Students felt like they got along well with other students (not without the occasional family scuffle mind you), and that they had resources for help when they needed it. Students talked about their post secondary planning (yes even the freshman student) and the goals they are setting now to get them where they want to be when they graduate.   They talked about how much they really loved the newly remodeled cafeteria, and how they felt as though GHS was preparing them well for their futures.

I would have to say the highlight of my shadowing (and it was all great) was my trip to the welding program at PATHS with Alex.  For this trip, I had to wear my steel toed boots (that I borrowed from my father because I don't own a pair myself) and was even able to dress up in a welding smock and borrow the instructor's helmet for safety while Alex showed me how to weld.  Such a great program, and just in case you didn't believe me - here's a few pictures to prove it!

It was fascinating listening to Alex (and all the students I shadowed) talk about their learning.  The combination of math and art in welding was incredible and you could tell each student in the program was proud to be there learning what they were learning!  All the students I visited were thoroughly engaged with their learning - spouting vocabulary and explaining things to me as they went!  I have to say, I'd never taken Spanish, but after watching the seniors in Spanish IV sing and dance to their Spanish songs - I'd be tempted to learn another language as well! :)

All in all, my student shadowing experience was a very educational experience.  If you happen to be wondering why it is I'm sharing this with you - its really mostly because I wanted to make sure all of you knew just what great schools we have here in Gorham, full of great staff, and great students, supported by a  great community!   Do we have work to do that can make our system better?  OF COURSE WE DO. .. and we will, but during this festive holiday season - its always a good time to simply take stock in what you do have!  Enjoy your Holidays!