“Miss, I need to talk to you,” said Adil urgently, stopping me in the hallway.
Adil, who is originally from Yemen, was elected a Tenth Grade Senator by his classmates.
Adil looked intense. “When can we start the animal care class? And the French class?”
In his senator campaign, Adil had promised to offer an animal care class and a French class. Now that he was elected, he assumed his only job was to inform me of his promises, and they would be done.
I explained to Adil that starting two classes mid-year with no pre-planning would be a challenge.
“But I already thought of a teacher,” he countered. “Mr. Boulaalam could teach French.”
“That’s a great idea,” I replied, “but Mr. Boulaalam already teaches five math classes. We’d need an extra math teacher to cover one of his classes, and it would give him a lot of extra work to prepare for a French class.”
Adil considered this for a moment, and then said, “I understand. But if we want kids to choose our school,* we have to offer a French class. And the animal class. We can talk later?” He dashed to his next class.
Adil’s promises reminded me of some of my own ideas:
- A car repair class
- A child care class that also doubles as a supervised daycare for young children and babies of staff and students
- Replacing staff hallway monitors with volunteer senior citizens– rather than able-bodied staff chasing after teens, the teens would shift their focus to taking care of the senior citizens, who would feel useful and could serve as mentors to the students. I’ve observed my students are gentler, calmer, and kinder around those who are more vulnerable.
- In-school student internships with teachers, secretaries, tech people, safety agents, custodial engineers, and cafeteria servers, to develop the idea that every adult in the building can be a teacher, and to teach respect towards staff members who often get marginalized
- Students cleaning up, sweeping, and mopping hallways and classrooms rather than custodial staff
While some of the ideas might seem like they’d replace staff with students or volunteers, it would actually free up many staff members to take on bigger projects, rather than scrambling after day-to-day maintenance. Ideas like this need planning, time, and some culture shifts, but are possible.
Just like Adil’s ideas. This year, Adil will learn that fulfilling a campaign promise involves planning, research, and taking responsibility, not just demanding that adults fulfill his promises. I hope we do get to help Adil fulfill his promises, as they’re great ideas. But what I love most is that a tenth grader is thinking of ways to make learning in his school richer, which is worthwhile in itself.
*In the New York City Public School System, eighth grade students and their families rank the top twelve high schools they would like to attend and get matched to one of them.
All the names of students have been changed.
Photo credit: Julie Nariman