By Beth Brown, TEA Vice President and Grundy County Educator
In the back of my classroom hangs a canvas titled “How to Really Love a Student,” a colorful daily reminder for me to show my students “an abundance of understanding, patience, and grace”; to “encourage their abilities, talents, and gifts”; and to “love them as they are today…and also for who they will become.”
That last phrase is significant: “Love them as they are today…and also for who they will become.” Any experienced educator will tell you that every class is unique; though I teach six sections of English III this year, no lesson is exactly the same on any given day…nor should it be. Simply put, each of my six classes is unique because it is comprised of a unique combination of unique individuals.
I am blessed to live and teach in Grundy County, which is known across the state for its beautiful parks, for the eclectic Beersheba Springs Arts and Crafts Fair, and for the historic Highlander Folk School. What is lesser known—at least to those living outside of the county borders—is that Grundy County is made up of multiple distinctive communities, and though we have but one high school, each community has its own PreK-8 elementary school.
During difficult financial times, the question invariably arises whether it would be prudent to close one or two of the elementary schools or even to build a middle school. The response is always the same: a swift and resounding NO. Citizens make it very clear that their communities are defined by the schools in them and that to close a school would be a death knell to a community.
So here in Grundy County we have communities whose identities are defined by their schools and whose schools are prime locations for transformational community schools.
Educators understand that our job each day is to meet students where they are and to help guide them toward their educational goals. Transformational community schools are the perfect opportunity for schools in Grundy County—and across the state—to do just that.
Can you imagine meeting students where they are by providing the health care, mental-health counseling, and other needed support services necessary to improve their ability to learn?
Can you imagine meeting students where they are by providing relevant and challenging coursework to prepare them for post-secondary opportunities in the work place, in technical school, or in college?
Can you imagine meeting students where they are by allowing professional educators—and not high-stakes standardized testing—to determine the curriculum?
Can you imagine meeting students where they are by implementing restorative discipline practices that teach students to identify, understand, and correct their behaviors rather than removing them from classes for minor infractions?
Can you imagine meeting students where they are by regularly involving parents and community members in planning and decision-making in their schools?
Such is the design of transformational community schools. I can easily imagine this model working successfully in rural communities like mine, creating schools that are uniquely designed for the students they serve.
Therein lies the beauty and genius of community schools.
Transformational community schools are designed to meet the specific and unique needs of the unique students they serve, and no community school will look or operate exactly the same way as another. Talk about true differentiation in education!
I will forever appreciate the guidance offered by my “How to Really Love a Student” painting. However, if I could improve it, I would add one more piece of advice: Create community schools in which students can thrive.
Learn more about transformational community schools in Tennessee: www.TennAROS.org