Visiting Beacon – What I Liked School Wide

School wide, three things stick out that I’d love to see more of at BLS:

  • There is student art work everywhere. Now we at Bronx Lab have hallways filled with work from art classes. However, what blew me away about Beacon is that every class room I went to was covered with content-related, student produced visual art. Sure, I typically have student work up on my walls, but it is almost entirely text-based (which is representative of the work I assign). Not only is this beautiful to look at, but it is indicative of a strong integration of the visual (and from the sounds of it, also performing) arts into the academic curriculum. I don’t know how to do this. I need to do this.
  • I got the chance to talk to a handful of seniors about their experiences at Beacon. For all of them, they talked first, and most, about their experiences in clubs and sports. I have a VERY bad habit of forgetting that my class is only one of six my students takes, and that even if I taught all six, I would still only occupy a very small portion of what my students saw as the important part of their lives. In terms of the school portion of many students’ lives, it is the after-school club and athletic portion that is most important to them, and probably in a good many cases, the most worthwhile portion as well. I know looking back on my high school experience, the most rewarding, engaging, and memorable experiences I had were all related to the time I spent working on our student newspaper, particularly when I was Editor-in-Chief. I am wondering how we can provide more of these opportunities to our students. I am well aware one of the trade-offs involved with a small school is that it limits the variety of extracurriculars we can offer. However, I feel that our limited after school resources are geared almost entirely to what we call Electives. These resemble classes more than a typical extracurricular. For one thing, our electives at BLS are almost all teacher run. Clubs tend to be student run and teacher sponsored. Are we providing our students with the after school experiences they want? How can we get closer to what our students would be excited to do, like the students at Beacon?
  • All three history classrooms I spent time in were filled with course-relevant non-fiction books. I WANT! I WANT!! I WANT!!! One 10th grade class I observed saw students researching major 20th Century figures who opposed imperialism. This is nearly identical to a project I tried to do at the beginning of my year. The difference is the Beacon students were able to conduct real research using a variety of sources in their classroom on a person of their choosing. In our case, students read about an assigned person (since I had to prepare materials in advance) using the one or two sources I provided for them. I think it’s a very safe conclusion that the students at Beacon were far more engaged in their work. Having a decent mini-history library at my disposal would open up a ton of possibilities and really transform the experience of my students. And I don’t think I have it in me to write about the differences in our libraries. It is simply injustice. Beacon’s library has at least three times as many resources as the library we share with everyone else at Evander Childs (Bronx Lab is a small school in a much larger building), yet we have three times as many students.
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