Today I had the opportunity to be a Waukesha North “Northstar” student for a day. Many friends and coworkers of mine would say, “haven’t you spent enough time as a Northstar student” referring to the 4 years I spent in this building as a student over 10 years ago; but I never spent a day like this.
For those who do not know me, I am the head band director at Waukesha North, graduated from North High School in 2004 and was a student at Butler Middle School and Summit View Elementary before that. That being said, if I were to go back to high school for a day, I think I chose the right student to follow; a second semester senior who has an interest in the arts. Here was my schedule:
Hour 1 - Wind Ensemble
Hour 2 - Student Aide (In my classroom)
Hour 3 - Ceramics
Hour 5 - Graphic Arts
Hour 6 - Student Aide (Art room)
Hour 7 - AP English 12
Without a doubt Matt has set his schedule up right. He has made some clear decisions about what his interests are in school and the schedule has allowed him to spend a majority of his day in those areas. I did miss one of his classes today, specifically his 4th hour Pre-College Math course (Sorry Mr. Johnson).
Throughout my day in Matt’s shoes I have come to a few observations:
Observation 1: If you want to learn this is a great place to do so.
In watching Matt through his day it is very clear that he is a student that has made a choice to learn. As I sat in his Ceramics course or watched him learn to clean a printing press in Graphic Arts I soon understood that I have no idea what is going on almost immediately. I have taken electives, gone through years of education but these are areas I simply don’t know. My interest was sparked.
The students of North High School have many more opportunities to learn than didn’t exist 10 years ago. From the advancement of technology and online classes, to the hands on labs and learning that has developed, it is clear that a student who wants to learn in this building can do so.
On the contrary, if a student doesn’t want to learn it is difficult for the instructors. As seen in each room, the students have a choice with what they would like to work on; if they don’t want to work...they don’t. Many students have taken the flexible learning environment for granted, become procrastinators and therefore struggle in classes that, if more structured would yield higher achievement.
Observation 2: Electives make the high school experience.
Ok, I know. I’m a band director and elective teacher so my input on this topic seems to be a given but, I mean it. Matt has shaped his learning through elective classes. He has had good core teachers (Math, Science, Social Studies, English) and strong work ethic that has allowed him to complete his necessary education but what has really made him a standout student is his involvement in the “high school experience.”
Matt is enrolled in music, arts and tech. ed courses that give his day a different shape from many others. This is his first year working in the tech. ed department but his attitude toward learning and prior knowledge have allowed him to be a high achieving student in this area.
I cannot stress enough the unique things that Matt has experienced at North High School. He did his work, achieved what was necessary as a Freshman, Sophomore and Junior, then had a chance to choose what he wanted to do during his senior year.
Observation 3: We do things differently.
Throughout the day one thing was very clear: we as educators have changed the way education looks. I have not attending a high school class in over 10 years and from what I remember it was a bit of discussion, a lot of lecture and some other activities mixed in. After re-reading the blog post that was an inspiration for this adventure (Student for a Day) I also realized that some schools still structure education that same way.
It’s not all for the better and much of it needs some work but we have gone out on a limb and tried new things in education. Some of the real positives include students working on their own “passion projects” that they have found interest in, the variety of learning environments and different use of devices in the classroom.
As mentioned prior the biggest downfall is the ability to go unnoticed and not “do the work” necessary. What is refreshing is that the student is expected to take ownership over their learning, they are in a learning environment that simulates real life...with a safety net of teachers who care about their achievement.
This experience wasn’t new to me, I had been a student before and I like to think it wasn’t that long ago but, I must admit, the students here have opportunities we didn’t. Many of them see it, understand it, and run with it. To the others, open up your eyes and get the experience out of North High School that can be; leave here with an education. Our educators and administrators have provide a safe environment to try something new and exciting, go do it.