Throughout the last ten years, there has been a push at the school to promote and develop advisory groups as a method of providing a safe and comfortable bonding environment for all of our students. It is believed that students need a strong identity with a "family group" within the school to make them safe, invited, and wanted in the learning environment. I have stated repetitively that our performing arts students are experiencing the most unique and lasting of advisory groups through the length and scope of our program in theater, dance, and singing. The long lasting constructive influence of hours invested in rehearsals and performance has been borne out in the many diverse and flourishing careers of students who experienced the very best of our performing arts programs.
Anyway, the student said that he needed to talk to me about “a lot of things.” The conversation immediately took a turn to the serious as the student announced that he would be transferring to another school beginning the upcoming Monday-in just three days. What was said next shocked me. This well-liked, talented and well adjusted student said that he was experiencing harassment and bullying from a small group of students not involved in performing arts. The student, let’s call him Jim, is also an athlete in addition to being a budding actor/singer/dancer.
Please understand: I am not naïve about bullying in our school, or the many power plays that students pull on each other as they attempt to scrape to the top of the highly insulated world and faux society that dominates the culture at every high school. Students seem to have grown increasingly mean to each other over the last twenty years. I am also regularly startled by the kindness that students demonstrate toward their teachers and fellow students. Both of these behaviors, the mean spirited and vindictive teenager alongside the teenager who truly empathizes with fellow students and faculty members, are displayed on a daily basis, sometimes in the same student.
Jim stated that is harassed for his stature and demeanor on an almost daily basis. After seeking counseling and conferencing with his parents, he had decided to enroll at a parochial school in Dayton. The parochial school has exceedingly limited offerings in the performing arts, and is known for its core basic academic curriculum and for being an oasis from the culturally diverse population that compromises Dayton. This school has a narrow focus, and does an adequate job of educating the privileged students who pass through their doors.
It is a sad day for our school as another student who perceives that he is being harassed leaves our building for another environment. The administration, who practically stopped school for several days to avoid two football players leaving just last year, paid lip service regarding Jim’s departure, but said nothing to the student or his parents. The dual standard of treatment and privileges for athletes and non-athletes has simply been reaffirmed at our school.
Furthermore, there seems to be no plan in place to address the obvious bullying occurring in our school. The basic goal of providing a safe and secure learning environment has not been met. An apathetic attitude by administrators and some teachers creates the artificial ambiance of a productive and healthy school atmosphere. We have failed in our obligation to invite our learners to the show, give them a great seat, and be certain that the show we give them is valuable, participatory by design, and open to all. None of this is to say that the purpose or blueprint of education should be entertainment oriented. The theatrical analogy is simply a convenient method of thinking about keeping our students in the house.
As teachers and administrators, we allow extrinsic events to determine the focus of our professional spotlight. Administrators have the unique role of aiming the spotlight and keeping it shining on school-wide issues that rise to the top.
At our high school, we often have the problem of running to jump on the caboose of the latest “educational fad train” and never finishing the trip. We never bother to decide why we got on the train in the first place or what was good or bad about the train or appraise the quality of the ride. We need to set clear priorities, implement strategies to address the priorities, and utilize pre-designed assessment measurements to determine the merits of the idea or program.
This is the summit of my current thinking and the rationale for my rant today: We need to stop running to catch the caboose, and be proactive in addressing the most over-riding educational concerns in our building. Regardless of the number of committees we may form, or the number of meetings we may hold, we must set priorities, and address these priorities in a professional manner. Several well-respected colleagues have believed for a number of years that many of our students do not feel safe. In this exceedingly pressurized high stakes testing realm that we now know as public education, we must address the primary needs of our students regardless if our legislators or our voters care about the topic or not.