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Old School

I happened to be in a colleague’s classroom the other day- actually less of a classroom and more of a makeshift black box mini theatre fashioned from a portable classroom.  I was looking at the stage design, created by his advanced class drama students; a paper mache waterfall (with a working fountain),  paper covered chicken wire backdrop, and assorted odds and ends used for props.  I knew his students worked hard to create their staging, and considering the absence of funding and lack of resources they did a marvelous job. However I couldn’t help but think back to my own high school days and the elaborate drama productions that were put on by the performing arts department at our school. 

Twice a year, our high school would host a dramatic production- a comedy in the fall and a musical in the spring.  Both productions were a collaboration between the performing arts, fine arts and vocational arts departments of our school.  The drama teacher was in charge of the overall production, directed the performance, and coordinated with the music teachers for the musicals,the art teacher for set design, the home economics teacher for costumes and the woodshop teacher for set building.  The beauty culture class did hair and make up. The band teacher coordinated the pit orchestra composed of students and teacher performers.  Each teacher involved in the production added the expertise of their discipline to help make the shows successful.  During the four years that I attended high school and for at least four years following, every performance was a collaborative effort between departments resulting in performances that got better with each passing year.  During one season, the school sold out all available performances because of the level of talent and sophistication in the shows.  

Our school was a small town high school populated by middle class students of blue collar parents.  It was part of a regional district so the resources and funding were not extraordinary.  What did make it unique was the staff who worked together like a finely tuned machine- collaborating not only in fine arts performances, but in the design and implementation of new and exciting curricula, the coaching and support of the athletic teams, the production of a weekly newspaper and annual yearbook, and scores of other assorted clubs and activities that helped make David Brearley Regional High School shine.  Teachers and students worked together, not just for individual success and graduation credits, but to be part of a greater whole.  

It is that sense of being part of something bigger than yourself that is missing in today’s high school experience.  How can a student feel connected to the school community when he is one of twenty five hundred plus students jammed onto a campus built for sixteen hundred?  How can interdepartmental collaboration take place when the counselling department (all three of them) is trying to schedule hundreds of students into dozens of different “academies and small learning communities”?  How can educators create opportunities for students to find their voice when states and districts continue to strip schools of funding and resources leaving only enough money for the useless and tiresome mandated standardized testing?  While I applaud my colleague’s drama students for their enterprise, I remain saddened that the American education system has deteriorated so completely that any hope for an experience like I had in high school can now only be found in privileged educational institutions. I am grateful for the rich experience that filled my high school days, but it breaks my heart that as an educator I can ‘t pass down to my own students the rewarding experience  that was granted to me.

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