Heather has been writing for Hubpages since 2013. She is currently writing fiction stories about how we can improve our school system.
The School Who Broke the Rules, With Consequences
What a fuss! Surrian was playing her electronic game she just received from Santa in the living room while her mom and a few other moms from school gossiped in her kitchen. Surrian Lackley, a seven year old girl at Dewey Elementary School listened with intent while the adults talked about how her school was a failure. “Lowest Standardized Test scores in our state!” roared Mrs. Thompson. “Technically, in the bottom ten percent.” corrected Surrian’s mom. “Close enough!” snapped Mrs. Thompson. “That’s why we need to convince more parents to attend the town meeting.”
The town of Bucolic was a small, family centered farming community. Industry was scarce, so other than farming (and teaching) there were not many well paying jobs. Hunger was a regular problem for the school children, as well as adequate clothing. The school had their own food bank and hand-me-down clothing “shop” (it was free for those in need) funded through donations from parents who were able, teachers, and local stores. The community felt invested in providing their best to the children.
“I think we’ve done our part.” said Mrs. Lackley. “All of the flyers were passed out, and the PTA spoke to the community. It’s time to prepare what we are going to say.” The adults continued their conversation while Surrian became lost in her game.
January second, as the holiday festivities were drawing to their conclusion, the town folks of Bucolic met in the town hall to discuss what should be done to improve the schools. The first meeting was a success, however everyone knew that fund raising would need to begin immediately if they wanted this change. Weekly meetings ensued which included advice from a variety of experts, parent input, and school district employee input. The school did a lot of research. Long, well attended meetings became a regular event. After several months of making plans, it was decided the school would close early and undergo renovations until the start of next school year. School was able to let out in late March due to counting required hours instead of days. This did not please the state. The school began to undergo scrutiny from the government.
The community decided they wanted the school to be of their design to meet the needs of their children. Through a lot of hard work including many fund raisers, grant writing, volunteers, and business donations of money and supplies, the project was ready to start.
As soon as school let out, work on the school began. Progress was quick. Between the paid workers and the volunteers, someone was always working on the school.
Meanwhile, Surrian Lackley spent the summer swimming, taking piano lessons, practicing with her soccer team, and practicing math with her mom. Surrian’s favorite subject was math, but was extremely bored with the math her school taught. She begged her mom to get her a hard math book to work on over the summer. Surrian always scored off the charts in math. Her mom tried to persuade the school to either challenge her or move her ahead in grades just for math, but the school said they were not set up for that and refused. The school didn’t have anyone who could give her individual instruction in her class, and each grade taught math at a different time so she could not be pulled out of other subjects for this. Surrian was “only” average in her other subjects, thus could not miss them. Her IQ was high normal, which did not qualify her for gifted program. So, she was stuck, resigned to be bored, lucky to have a mom who tried to keep her engaged.
The school was mostly finished by the beginning of August. Scheduled tours began, and all parents and students were invited to attend. Surrian and her mom were eager to see the school and set up their time.
Mrs. Lackley had attended all of the meetings and was aware of changes the school underwent. She did not discuss much with Surrian, so Surrian was shocked when they pulled into the parking lot and on the land outside the school was a new, gigantic playground. Still attached to the school, but close to the playground was a large, glass enclosed room with even more play and playground equipment for indoor recess. Mrs. Lackley explained to Surrian that everyone agreed that children must have outdoor, or close to outdoor play everyday because children’s minds are designed to learn during play. Recess would still be the same amount of time, but all of the kids will play no matter the weather.
From the outside Surrian also noticed another enormous glass room toward the center of the school. Mrs. Lackley told Surrian it was a greenhouse, but did not explain why. This was a big push from community members, largely parents for a variety of reasons. Having the school grow its own food was an inexpensive, healthy way to tackle the hunger epidemic in the school. The school food bank was a lifesaver for some families, however the food donated was not always very healthy or nutritious. Also, parents wanted their children to learn how to grow plants, care for the soil and fertilization, teaching them how to take care of the Earth. In part because Bucolic was a farming community, but mostly because food was essential for survival and they wanted their kids to know where food came from and how to care for, and prepare it for eating. Mrs. Lackley did tell Surrian that the food they grew would be used in recipes cafeteria workers and students would make for breakfast and lunch. The greenhouse already had a wide variety of plants in pots, and even growing on the dirt floor. Mrs. Lackley said the students will learn to care for the plants already in the greenhouse, as well as taking on the responsibility of growing, fertilizing, and seeing that their new plants survive and bear fruit.
Surrian and her mom walked through the front door and noticed a big sign that read, “Reading books of your choice is your only homework this year!” Straight ahead was the office. It was almost the same as usual. There were three new rooms on either side of the office. The office and the three rooms were the middle of the school, and rows of classrooms were going around them. It looked like a starfish or and octopus with the office as the head, and the rows of classrooms as the legs. Several other parents and children were already in the office waiting for their scheduled tour.
Finally, the school counselor, Mrs. Ami gathered everyone and started. She began by showing the room to the right of the office, which she announced was the Sensory Room. Mrs. Ami explained that a Sensory Room was a dedicated space or room where sensory stimulation could be controlled. There were quite a few students who struggled with sensory processing issues and needed a safe place to self regulate. The room was rather large, with a soft, carpeted floor. There were covers over the ceiling lights to dim them, and several colorful lamps of various sizes ranging from floor to ceiling size down to lava lamps. The room had a projector that put images of the ocean on the walls and ceiling. Several cloth, full seat swings hung from the ceiling. Personal size trampolines, beanbags, cloud chairs which vibrate to music, fluffy chairs, various fiber optic string lights, and stuffed animals were scattered throughout the room. A diffuser was emitted a lavender smell to the room. All of the equipment was turned on to show the full effect.
The group was led to one of the doors to the left side of the office which was labeled “Meditation Moment.” This room wasn’t as large as the Sensory Room. It also had dim lights and a lavender scent coming from a lighted diffuser. The floor was scattered with yoga mats. Mrs. Ami told the group that a topic that kept coming up in the town meetings was the problem of figuring out what to do with disruptive students besides sending them to the office. Was there a way to help them? A research committee found a study that meditation over punishment resulted in less offenses/disruptive behavior. These students learned strategies for managing their problems through the meditation sessions that they were later able to use themselves to prevent the disruptive behavior before they acted on it. Disruptive students will first come to the Meditation Moment with a trained aide before taking further action.
The room next to Meditation Moment was the learning support room. There were various style chairs, desks, and computers.
Mrs. Ami led the tour group to the first hallway to the left of the office. Hanging from the ceiling was a picture of a baseball home plate. Written on the sign were the words “Home Base.” Students would be with other students in their grade and would start their day, do read aloud, and end their day in these rooms. The group was shown the first room. It was very small, and instead of standard desks and chairs, there were a mix of beanbags, oversized pillows, textured cushions, stools, and soft chairs. There were hooks against one side of the room to hang book bags and coats. Mrs. Ami explained that the teacher aides were in charge of these rooms. The aides would start the day, do read aloud, and end the day with their home base. The rest of the day they would monitor recess and lunch, work in the workroom, and remain available to lead a meditation moment when needed.
The next hallway was longer with all of the math classrooms. Again, the rooms were fairly small, just enough room for traditional desks, chairs, and a long table in the back of the room with enough computers for each student. Students were going to be given time every day to play math fact games on the computer. Unlike previous years, the entire school was going to have math at the same time. This meant that students would be placed in specific classes based on ability, not grade.
Each hall was similar to the math hall and rooms, only for the other subjects. Mrs. Ami explained the schedule to the group. “Math is the only subject all students will have at the same time. Students will rotate through the other subjects with their grade. Specials (music, art, library, and gym) will be included in the rotation. Having the students move around throughout the day will help them learn better. The school did not want students sitting around in one classroom all day.”
Mrs. Ami led the group to the greenhouse. It was impressive! There were plenty of tables and workspace, and a wide assortment of plants, many already bearing fruit. Special lights were scattered around the room. Local farmers donated a lot of the equipment.
Next to the greenhouse was a classroom attached to a large room which looked like a store. In fact, it was a school store. Inside the classroom every student was going to take money management class. This class was intended to be a hands on way to learn business and money skills. Each student will have an “account” with school bucks. More bucks can be earned through school jobs. Parents are not able to contribute real money to boost their kids account. The bucks are used to “buy” things from the school store including pencils, erasers, snacks grown in greenhouse, and so on. The older students will have to use school bucks to pay for things like parking, going to school dances, and so on, but this school didn’t have to worry about that. Students will receive a card similar to a credit card to pay for things, and will be able to check their accounts on the computer whenever they want. Mrs. Ami said the students would learn more about it when school started and brought the group back to the office. This was the last time Surrian was in school before its grand opening.
A week later, Surrian received a copy of her school schedule. Her schedule was as follows:
8:15-8:25 Pledge, morning announcements, and breakfast; in Home Base
8:30-9:00 Spelling and Language Arts; in Language Arts Hall
9:05-9:35 Read Aloud; in Home Base
9:40-10:10 Specials; in Specials Hall
10:15-10:45 Agriculture; in Greenhouse
11:25-11:55 Lunch; in Cafeteria
12:00-12:30 Writing/Language Arts; in Language Arts Hall
12:35-1:05 Money Management; in classroom attached to School Store
1:10-1:40 Science/Social Studies; in Science/Social Studies Hall
1:45-2:15 Math (entire school); in Math Hall
2:20-2:45 Varied (School job, Band, Chorus, Club, Independent reading in Home Base)
Surrian and her mom were happy with the schedule.
The first day of school finally arrived. Surrian rode the same bus with the same bus driver as last year. As the bus pulled up to the school, Surrian saw the familiar faces of all of the teachers, mostly the same as last year, waiting at the door to greet the students. Each teacher gathered a group of students, brought the group inside, and showed them where to receive their breakfast. Once everyone had their breakfast, the teachers showed them to Home Base where the Teacher Aides were waiting for them. Surrian hung her backpack on a hook in the classroom, sat down on a beanbag chair, and opened her breakfast, which was in a paper bag. She was expecting a pastry tart and a milk like they served last year. The milk was the same, but instead of a pastry tart, there was a hard boiled egg, fresh strawberries and blueberries from the greenhouse, and a yogurt. It felt like a feast! All of the kids in the class were commenting on how sweet, and delicious the fruit was.
Mrs. Cheri was Surrian’s aide. She began explaining the day to the class. She told the class that she and the other aides would escort their classes from room to room for the first week of school, then the students would be responsible for getting to class themselves. There would be reward system using the school dollars for being responsible.
As Surrian followed her schedule and traveled from class to class throughout the day, she noticed how short the day felt and how she had an easier time staying focused knowing that she would be up and moving to the next subject.
When it came time for math, all students were instructed to stay with their home room group until everyone was tested and teachers were able to determine math groups based on their assessment. Upon arriving in the math room, the temporary math teacher tested each student with a computer assessment, as well as a written assessment.
The day ended in Home Base for everyone since clubs/jobs had not yet been assigned. Mrs. Cheri talked to the students about their different options and handed out permission forms. Surrian was hoping she could be in the two day a week chorus practice and work in the cafeteria the other three days. She wanted to learn how to cook.
The first day of school was a success. The first week of school was a success. Soon all of the students were placed in their correct level math classes, and were proficiently adapted to their new routine.
As the year progressed, there were many positive changes. Overall test scores were dramatically higher. The school was cleaner because students took responsibility by having cleaning as a job. The students ate healthy foods they were invested in, and were more willing to try new foods. Students learned about money and the value of money through hands on, real world experience. Students were given more of a chance to explore areas of special interest. For example, there was a boy with autism who had an intense interest in hydroponics and was able to design and build a new hydroponics system for the greenhouse. It was unlike anything used up to this point. He patented it, and is looking to produce and distribute his product. Disruptive behavior was almost unheard of because students learned to ask for what they needed when they were in an overwhelming situation. If they needed to go to Meditation Moment, they learned to request it. If they were experiencing sensory overload, they either learned to ask, or had teachers who recognized the need and they were sent/went to the Sensory Room. Through all of the “extras” most schools and legislators deem frivolous, these students were able to go from below expectations to thriving. The students went from one of the lowest testing schools on the mandatory standardized tests, to scoring in the top 80% in the state.
Despite the success and improved everything, the state continued throughout the year to fine, and eventually shut down the school because they refused to follow the required curriculum, allowed kids to “get paid” (in school bucks) for working at the school, and not run their school in the traditional, factory run way.
The next school year, Surrian went to school in the next town over because her school was shut down and not suitable to reopen. It was a difficult transition, especially with math since she was now three to four grade levels ahead due to being in a math class last year based on ability instead of age. Although she never again thrived as she had done last year, being a child she adapted and was able to grow up and function in the adult world. Hey, if it’s good enough for everyone else, it’s good enough for her too, right? Why go for extraordinary when what we have is good enough?
© 2018 HeatherH104