An imposing pale stone fortress, Brighton High School sits high on a hill behind St. Elizabeth Hospital. Serving over a thousand students, it still manages to create a “small school” atmosphere in classes where teachers pay attention to individual needs. Many of the students are immigrants and in need of intensive ESL instruction; I talked with young people who were born in Brazil, Sudan, and Hong Kong – one young man had only been here for six months!
Principal Patrick Tutwiler welcomed me, giving me keys to the elevator and to rooms that might be locked so that I didn’t need to interrupt instruction. That was a first for me! Students everywhere were reading, writing, taking a diagnostic test, solving math problems with graphing calculators, or watching an educational video. History teacher Matthew Clark was talking with his ninth grade students about the reasons for and results of the War of 1812, asking them to think about and write predictions of how the Americans might’ve responded to the burning of Washington, D.C. Students were preparing posters for their science fair projects in Katrina Stieren’s science class.
Art teacher Chris Plunkett moved around the room helping students design realistic or fantasy cityscapes. In Patricia Kelliher’s Graphic Design & Photography class a group of students was setting up a photo shoot, while others worked at computers and another got tips from her teacher about how to use a digital camera. Students’ projects involved showing how the Bill of Rights connected to their personal experience and it was good to see an interdisciplinary assignment at the high school level.
A sign on one math teacher’s door caught my eye, boldly proclaiming that students who enter her classroom are mathematicians and explorers... and their teachers care about them. I also really liked the bulletin board in Robin Mankel’s SEI math classroom, which invited students to “Change your language, change your mindset!” with language such as: “This is too hard” > “This may take some time and effort.” and “It’s good enough.” > “Is this really my best work?”
When asked what he liked best about his school, Biology teacher Garret Virchick said: “The staff in all departments work together. There is an understanding that the challenges we face demand teamwork. One thing we do before each whole school meeting is take a few moments where people get up and acknowledge the help they've received recently from different teachers.” Now that’s a good idea! Please share what’s working in your school – invite me to visit!
Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.