My last two years of high school I attended Bethel Regional High School in Bethel, Alaska. It’s a bush town out on the tundra. The only way to get there is by plane, boat, or in winter, via snowmachine or the ice road. When I was living there the population was somewhere around six thousand. I moved from tropical Haiti to frozen Alaska and it was quite a shock to the system. I walked around in a heavy coat the first summer, but eventually I got used to it. It was the first time in my life that I did not have any tan lines. I’m sure my skin appreciated the break.
I remember my senior year a girl I knew called me and asked me if I would be willing to tutor her in geometry. I was surprised and a little confused. Umm. I’ve never tutored before, I’m not sure how helpful I would be. Then the girl assured me that our math teacher, Mr. Guffin, had been the one who told her to call me. Oh. Ok. (Mr. Guffin thinks I can tutor someone??) Well, sure, I guess I could tutor you.
The tutoring went well, she was able to get her grade where it needed to be, and the next semester another girl called and asked me to tutor her for Alegebra 2, also saying Mr Guffin had suggested she call me. I tutored her as well and she was able to pass her class too.
I would have never thought that I could tutor someone in math. I would never have volunteered to do it. I would have never thought myself qualified to do it. But my teacher saw that I could, pushed me in that direction, and my confidence grew and I learned how to tutor math.
I ended up writing for the school newspaper. Another thing I had no previous interest in and didn’t really think of it as something I would be capable of doing. A teacher pushed me in that direction and I ended up learning how to conduct interviews, and do layout on a computer.
My gym teacher declared that everyone in his class would do calisthenics and running and become competent in a long list of sports. I did not think these were things I could do. But, it was required so I did it. And learned that I was actually capable of these things and could even semi-enjoy them. (Ok, maybe I didn’t quite become competent in all the sports, but I definitely made improvements!)
I was not signed up for band class because I did not play any band instruments. But the band teacher learned very early on that I could play piano. He volunteered (voluntold) me to be the band accompanist. I accompanied several ensembles for their competitions and performances and I ended up accompanying every single student who performed a solo for band competition. And one time, when they were short somebody, I played the timpani. All things I did not think I could do. But the teacher said yes, you can do this, here’s the music, get busy.
My best friend pushed me to be a class officer. Did I want to do this? No. Did I do it anyway? Yes. Did I learn a lot in the process? Yes.
When I look back, I think of these last two years of high school as the golden years. I was learning who I was and what I was capable of doing. I made some great friends. My teachers were supportive and involved. My classmates were friendly enough. I was good friends with some, acquaintances with others, slightly nodding recognition with a handful. But no bullies. No kids that I felt the need to avoid at all costs.
This is what I want for my own children. I want school to be a place where they are pushed to try new things, pushed to excel. Pushed to be more, do more. A safe environment with at least a handful of friends.
We are looking at making some changes for next school year when we have a junior and freshman in high school. While our local high school was a great experience for our oldest daughter, a reasonable experience for our son and a decent experience for our other daughter, we’ve reached a place where it is not meeting the needs of our fourth daughter and we have concerns for our upcoming freshman. And while I struggle because I want to support our neighborhood school and I believe in their vision and I applaud the efforts of many of their staff, I can’t help wanting my kids to have the same thing I did. And right now it looks like we will have to branch out to find it.
I’ll write more about this later.