The personal learning network for educators
I have a love/hate relationship with my former high school.
I love that I got a strong academic education that prepared me for college. I love that I received personal attention and was in an environment that allowed ‘free periods’ and opportunities to get off campus and explore career interests. I hate that in the early 1990s, I was the single African-American who attended the school. I hate that I had to be ‘the voice’ of my race for every conversation. I hate that I had to highlight racial prejudices exercised by my classmates.
However without this internal battle I don’t believe I would have pursued the field of education. If it weren’t for the math teacher who told my parents that I was a woman and black so they shouldn’t expect me to do well in math, I would never have ended that pre-calculus class with an A. If it wasn’t for the college advisor who asked me what my back-up school was when I showed him my list of desired colleges, I would never have pushed to go to New York University and then receive two master degrees after that. My parents made the decision to choose a quality education over a diverse learning environment. I left in pursuit of young students of color receiving both.
It seems fitting that I never returned after my high school graduation until last week on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In Wisconsin, private institutions get to choose to honor this holiday or not, my high school does not.
Situated in Hartland, Wisconsin, the school was founded in 1956 by a group of people who decided to make their summer homes their permanent homes. They didn’t like the academic program offered to the local people who were primarily farmers, so they started their own school. The school started with grades seven through ten and eventually expanded to its current three year old-twelve grade format.
I arrive in the middle of a mild Wisconsin snowstorm. My close friend and fellow alum is waiting to join me on this visit. I’m nervous and excited to see how after almost two decades, what has become of this educational institution.
Many things are still the same. The majority of my male teachers are still at the school although a little older with multiple children. There is still an opportunity to play in any sport you wish and the single hallway leaves few places to hide.
But much has changed. The lower school, theater and gymnasium are all new. The upper school has been reconfigured to include common areas and eliminate the library for a media center.
The exterior changes don’t reflect the internal changes. For a period of almost 10 years, the school has seen a decline in enrollment so severe that the middle school building stands empty.
The generations of students keeps the school going. As my friend and I sit in on a freshman leadership class, we’re informed that the presenter is the child of a student who graduated a few years before us. The teacher asks students to raise their hands if they’re parents attended the school..almost 50% of the class raises their hands.
Although the area has increased in population, families are choosing to attend public schools or a rival independent school that has a more traditional philosophy of education.
On the other hand, my alma mater uses the philosophies of Reggio Emilia , John Dewey , Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky to teach students. The curriculum in the younger grades aligns closely with Reggio Emilia. As students get older it is still important for them to have some control over the direction of their learning.
Although the constructivist theory is the foundation of the school, the implementation has changed based on the beliefs of each headmaster. There are no longer ‘free periods’ and the school has established a laptop program beginning in 6th grade. The new headmaster is unveiling a strategic plan soon. My staff members are hopeful will be a realistic plan of growth and shared philosophy to move the school forward. Possibly this will provide a vision of the school that is recognized not just by alumni but by the surrounding community as well.
As my friend and I walked out the doors of the front entrance, we stopped to look at the pictures of all of the graduating classes since the school’s inception. As we laughed about the transformation of hairstyles over the years, I couldn’t help but notice that I was the last African-American to graduate from the school.
All schools are not for all but this one seems to only be for the families of alumni that understand it making it difficult for outsiders to embrace.
This post is part of the 40/40/40 series.