The Parkway Academy of Technology and Health (PATH) is a “small school” within the West Roxbury High School Complex. It’s hard to get a sense of the school community because classes and administrative offices are spread throughout three floors of this massive building. Lockers line hallways and a few small notices are tacked to doorways; I miss seeing the large colorful displays of student work evident in many schools – perhaps the fire marshals have visited recently?
When I look more closely, I notice a classroom door in a small “alley” near the principal’s office covered with samples of student writing. Inside, Ms. Eisenschmidt is using a projection from her laptop to focus a class discussion on what makes a “civil” society. Her ninth grade students are totally engaged in considering questions such as “How can one keep the ideas that inspired a society from being abused?” As they invent their own societies, they’re prompted to consider how they will educate their people, sustain the economy, develop and enforce laws. I’m fascinated!
There are many science classes going on: students are examining plants, learning about cell division, and making presentations to their classmates about infectious diseases. In humanities classes, it’s clear that literature and the study of history are well integrated. Talking with students a week later, including one young man with autism, I’m struck by how articulate and passionate they are about their learning. I doubt their MCAS scores could begin to capture this, however, and I feel privileged to be able to share their voices in this column.
My friend and former colleague, PATH’s Curriculum Access Coordinator Yvonne Watson, welcomed me and facilitated my visit. Several students were working in her office to make up assignments during their lunch period, and in the cafeteria they consulted her on a variety of personal issues. I also observed teachers coaching individual students in between classes.
As we consider closing small schools in Boston to save money, and knowing how critical relationships are to effective teaching, I wonder what will be lost in terms of this kind of attention to each student’s needs.
Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.
Amika Kemmler-Ernst is a recently retired BPS New Teacher Developer with extensive experience as a classroom teacher, curriculum developer, and graphic artist. Her “We’re Learning Here” series features images of everyday learning in our public schools, along with the words of the students pictured. Please invite her to visit your school this year!