When a very opinionated senior wasn’t entertaining me with his tales and ideas that made me grit my teeth (“You don’t need school if you’re going to pour concrete.”), I spent Saturday listening to people discuss the unacceptable graduation statistics in our school system. While we were separated into smaller groups based on each public high school, I suspect that every single group made the claim that someone in our group made. “We have to think outside of the box, because things that work in other schools, won’t work in ours.” The better statement would be what a wise teacher tacked on to that claim. “Each student has unique circumstances and needs. One size does not fit all.” That teacher voiced the one thing that everyone in our group could agree on as a solution. Every student needs a caring, supportive adult in their life.
Then, the invisible wall that keeps Knoxville from going from scruffy to shiny made its’ inevitable appearance. “It still galls me that we have kids who belong in other schools at our school. We are a community and those kids know they don’t belong in our community.” The hair on my arms assumed the porcupine pose, but I bit my tongue. Half a dozen high schools are a fifteen minute drive from my house. This is not MY school. These are OUR schoolS. Those teenagers strutting their feathers like peacocks at the mall, concert and party attend all of our schools. The teenagers committing vandalism, shoplifting and assault attend all of our schools. The teenagers excelling at academic and athletic competitions attend all of our schools. The teenagers adrift in the murky bog between childhood and adulthood attend all of our schools. The teenagers without the motivation, support or ability to graduate from high school, attend all of our schools. The drop-outs without literacy or skills to work have and will continue to affect each and every one of us.
If a student is enrolled in your school, they ARE a part of that community and anyone who thinks otherwise is a part of the problem instead of the solution. This feudalistic attitude about tiny geographic segments of Knoxville hurts our city and the people who live in it. Knoxville is too small for this us vs. them behavior. We have to work together to help every school. We have to embrace every student in every school. If you won’t even connect to the students in your own classroom because you see some of them as usurpers, we won’t succeed. If they are sitting there, they belong. If they live in Knoxville, they belong in ANY of our schools. Celebrate the fact that every student in the room is a student who still has the opportunity to graduate. Don’t pretend they are not a part of your community. Those students in that OTHER school are your community too.