Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ESE: Mostly, it’s about believing

‘Tis the season for graduation ceremonies! College and high school are the “standards”, but it’s not unheard of to receive an engraved invitation – RSVP – to watch some neighborhood four-year-old walk across the stage in a cap and gown.

Then - yesterday – I got to go back to Turkey Creek Middle School for their Exceptional Student Education (ESE) graduation.

Ten 8th graders made their way across the stage in the Media Center - full with parents, teachers, students, administrators and guests (including the Strawberry Queen and a bunch of school district higher-ups). Principal Dennis Mayo kicked off the ceremony with a welcome, and by the time the graduates headed for the buffet they had more awards than some of them could carry.

So why all the fuss? Why make so much noise about the simple transition into high school? Why not just hand over report cards and start getting ready for the next batch?

The answer addresses the whole point of ESE. Here in American we have this remarkable federal initiative that mandates a “free and appropriate” education (public law 94-142, 1975, re-imagined as IDEA in 1990), and it’s a plan designed to make sure all children have access to first-rate schooling – regardless.

However, such a venture only works when the effort goes both ways. The point of ESE is not to make school easy; the point is to make school possible.

Forgive me, but I must repeat the thought. It’s a powerful idea and I don’t want anyone to gloss over it. The point of exceptional student education – and this applies to pretty much any public program – is not to make school easy; the point is to make school possible.

I taught ESE for almost two decades, and it was amazing how many parents believed it was our job (teachers and principals) to make school easy for their kids! But that’s not it at all. What good ESE teachers do is everything in their power to make success an option for students and families… but they must be prepared to do their part and work as a team.

Turkey Creek has some good ESE teachers. That’s the reason ten 8th grade graduates walked across the stage having actually achieved something. That’s what exceptional student education is all about!

The event's organizer and sponsor (that's Scott Anderson at right, introducing the Strawberry Queen) was kind enough to invite me to speak, so I told the students about Andrew (he’s on the plane to Bahrain today), who really didn’t enjoy school that much when he was their age. “But today he’s doing a job that he loves, committed to helping people, travelling all over the world, and making enough money to live the kind of life he wants,” I said. “And I’m going to tell you how.”

I dove in while I had their attention. “The first thing Andrew did was to simply hang in there. It’s not enough to say that ‘50% of success is just showing up.’ It turns out that 100% of achievement depends on hanging around to the end. So I want to encourage you to stay in school.

“The other thing was that Andrew believed. People may tell you ‘seeing is believing’. But he realized there are things that you’re never going to see until you first believe.”

Exceptional Student Education is about making good use of all the abilities at a students’ disposal. It’s about teachers, parents, and students working together to take collective responsibility and to give everyone a fighting chance. And, mostly, it’s about believing.

Strawberry Queen Natalie Burgin drove the point home at the end of her talk. “You can do it!” she said with a huge smile, and with the kind of enthusiasm only festival queens can pull off with any credibility.

And she really meant it – you could tell.

Peace - DEREK

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