(Guest post from Girl Rising Ambassador Carol Anschuetz, an educator who resides in Oceanside, California.)
Whenever I say, I teach at a continuation high school, the response is usually something like, “Oh, wow - it takes a special person to work with THOSE kids.” THOSE kids include high- powered achievers concurrently enrolled in college courses, students with health issues, students with substance abuse issues, students with learning disabilities, second language learners, students with emotional issues, students with full-time jobs, students who are parents, students with no parents, students who “parent” their parents. The common thread: traditional high school doesn’t work for them.
As most seasoned educators will admit, most days I learn more than I teach. One thing I’ve learned is that once a student finds personal meaning or purpose for their learning, school finally “works” for them. Relevance. Pretty simple except, of course, when it’s not that simple.
Last spring Kelly was a junior. She’s now a senior; but frankly, I’m surprised she returned to school at all this year. She is a capable student, never disruptive in class, yet all last year she completed nothing. She didn’t connect with people around her. She was stuck. Last spring Gina almost dropped out. She lives in a gang-fraught neighborhood and academically she struggles. She is often truant, and when she does show up for school, she finds reasons to be out of class. She wants to be the first in her family to earn a high school diploma, but in order to do that she is going to need to stick around for some learning. The challenge with both these girls will be to help them discover relevance in their education.
Meanwhile, and also last spring, my daughter and I attended a screening of the film, GirlRising. The film presents the challenges and the imperative of educating girls worldwide. The message is conveyed simply by introducing nine girls who share their stories of adversity and the transformative power of education. After viewing the film, my thirteen-year-old daughter didn’t even unzip her purse to pull out her cell phone. Remarkable! Instead we talked during our drive home, and over the next few months we continued the talk, reminding one another about these girls and their compelling stories. Their personalities were so powerful and inspiring that on some level we felt we had befriended and learned important things from each of them: Senna, Wadley, Suma, Azmera, and the others - courageous, young women worlds away from our own reality. One thing was clear - not one of the nine struggled to find relevance in their schooling, rather their struggle was to gain access to school. For these young women education was clearly a privilege; it represented opportunity and hope. My daughter and I were moved. Yet we didn’t really move. We went home and returned to the stuff we always do– until recently.
Recently, I had an opportunity to introduce THOSE students of mine to THESE, my Girl Rising friends. We presented the film segments about Senna from Peru and Suma from Nepal (both segments are available free to educators, by the way – along with some spot-on curriculum created by the Pearson Foundation). Afterward, on the bottom of the discussion handout, we issued a simple invitation: “Sign here if you are interested in meeting with other students to learn or do more about this issue.” Guess what? THOSE presumably disengaged teenagers who often don’t want to even be in school – of THAT group we had 8 signatures. What’s more, they showed up - for an AFTER SCHOOL meeting. All of this is monumental at our school.
Some of the “usual suspects” were there. Our model UN student showed up; our student body president was there. However, we also had some not-so-usual suspects. One of those attendees was Kelly. Another was Gina – and Gina brought a friend! Kelly didn’t say a word at the meeting, but she was present in a way she had never been present for my class. That meeting was more of a phenomenon, actually. My teacher colleague, Michelle, and I were there to facilitate, but truthfully not much was needed from us. This unlikely cohort communicated with purpose. They resolved to work together and make a difference for girls like those in the documentary. After the meeting disbanded, Michelle and I looked across the empty room at one another with wide-eyed expressions and simultaneously burst into laughter. Monumental.
The group is starting a club at our school. That’s right, a club – at our school! This year the club will target education for girls in developing nations. The students started by sharing the Girl Rising segments and accompanying curriculum with the entire school on International Day of the Girl a couple of weeks ago. They hosted an informational table after the presentation. They plan to raise money throughout the year and perhaps host a screening of the full film for community members. They hope to contribute proceeds from their work to one of Girl Rising’s NGO partners.
In a sense THOSE and THESE students have now forged a relationship - each has something to offer the other. The relationship, though remote, is very real. Together they are unpacking hurts and overcoming obstacles that block learning, because an education is worth it. The effort to move forward is underway and THOSE, my students, honor me daily by allowing me to partner with them as they engage in the most relevant kind of learning there is - learning to change our world.
(To emulate Carol’s effective teaching method, click here to access the Girl Rising curriculum and its resources.)