What makes a school great? Shouldn’t all schools want to be great? Shouldn’t all parents want to send their child to a great school? A large part of my job as a nutrition consultant for the National School Lunch Program is visiting schools and observing their meal program. Most schools that we partner with serve at-risk, low income families in high poverty areas. I love my job. I’ll say that again, I love my job. I am constantly inspired by the staff, students and parents in the schools that I visit. Having visited over 100 schools across the US, I can identify a good school vs a great school.
A good school is treating kids with respect, giving them the required education, providing meals, and supporting them to do well in their academics. I have been in a lot of good schools. I think most people would agree with the statement “Every child in the US deserves a good education”. I disagree. I have seen too much. I have witnessed what great looks like, and I do not understand why every school in this nation does not adapt a growth mindset and strive to deliver a world class, inspiring, boundless education.
A great school does more than simply educate kids. A great school will give students the tools they need to be successful in life, not just the classroom. A great school will nurture a child so they blossom into an incredible human being. A great school will provide support, nutrition, love and a safe environment. A great school will lead by example, and produce students who love to learn, are kind to one another, challenge themselves and believe in their own success.
I recently was visiting a charter school in East Oakland, California, and watched the bar for great schools get raised within 20 minutes of being there. This is an elementary charter school that serves mostly African American and Hispanic students, where 90% of students are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. The students arrived between 7:30 and 8:00 am, and after getting all their energy out on the playground, they were called to the center of the basketball court for their morning affirmation. The principal then got on the microphone and went over their weekly goals, achievements and agenda for the day. That week’s goal was for the students to use kind words when speaking to one another. He then called up three students who were nominated by their teachers for achieving the goal and making a difference in their classmates’ day. The entire school applauded while these students received a small token for their outstanding behavior. The principal then went on to do their morning dance routine with the kids, which is choreographed each month by a different class to a popular hit song. And yes, the principal did the entire silly dance in front of teachers and parents. They ended the morning affirmation by wishing all of the older grades well on their upcoming testing, telling them they are capable, they can do this, they will succeed. Reminding students why kind words are important, talking about the end goal of college, and sending everyone off on a positive, uplifting note.
I watched on as every teacher stood by their class, actively engaged and participating in this morning ritual. Morning ritual as in they do this entire routine every single morning. They have a positive goal set each week, encourage one another, embolden good behavior, and lead by example. I was able to witness a great school, who is teaching those students more than what is required. A great school with a solid foundation, and people who genuinely care about the well-being of each child who sets foot in that door.
It takes a village to raise a child, and for a lot of children, majority of that village is found within their school walls.