August 2, 2006
I know everyone is excited about beginning a new school year, and I know that this excitement always comes with at least just a bit of anxiety. "Will we have a good year this?" "Will my child have a successful transition from elementary school?" "Will my child make good grades, have the right friends, and have great teachers?" These are just some of the unspoken worries that may be on your mind.
I want to assure you that at Mabry we have an excellent staff of caring teachers, counselors, and administrators that all want the very best for your child. Raising children today is certainly one of our most challenging, rewarding, and complex efforts. We all want so badly for our children to enjoy every opportunity and have every advantage.
One of our teachers just referred me to two articles printed this summer in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that are worth the quick read and some pondering. The first is Teens of Means, which introduces Madeline Levine's work, and the second is a Question and Answer session with Madeline Levine. Ms. Levine has recently published a book, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. I have not read the book, but here are a few quotations from the articles that are of interest. (For those who have read her book, I would be interested in getting your perceptions of it.)
From the Q&A, "Psychologist Madeline Levine says the things children need the most are not material: 'Happy kids are formed from strong family ties, from good discipline, from being part of a community, from an emphasis on conscience and good values.'" She says, "We emphasize the wrong things. We emphasize performance over effort, which is a huge mistake; we emphasize competition over reciprocity. It's parents, but it's also the larger culture that has said that it's more important to win than to cooperate; it's more important to be an individual than to be part of a community; and it's more important to have lots of stuff than to be connected to people."
A team of 8th grade students actually created an iMovie last year about this very issue: having lots of things but becoming disconnected from other people. They specifically talked about how their cell phones, ipods, video games, and instant messaging actually put distance between them and their family and friends. Their movie project is really excellent, moving, and will make you think. Move the playhead to the last two minutes of this movie link from last year's film festival. I encourage you to view it and see this issue from their perspective.
Additionally, last year I asked students in six different classes (two sixth, two seventh, and two eighth grade), "If I were to walk into the best school in the world, what would I see? What would be going on?" I was stunned at their answers. In fact, I found them so meaningful, we made a podcast of what they said. They talk a great deal about technology, but they also emphasized connectedness with their peers (in the physical classroom and all around the world) and with their teachers. Several mentioned a significantly reduced class size so they would get more individualized instruction and attention.
Becoming a teenager in our American culture today is a messy and difficult process under the best of circumstances. During this time of being an "in between ager" our students are trying to sort out who they are and what is important to them. They are working through balancing becoming an individual while at the same time fitting into a group. (I'm sorry if I am bringing back some tough memories of this time in the lives of our parents when you were this age!) But we all know the challenge that is this age. But we often don't realize the challenge of being this age today.
As your principal at Mabry, I will continue to stress with our students, their doing their best work--not making all "A"s. I tell our students that school is not about grades. Unlike No Child Left Behind, which emphasizes attaining low level basic standards, our emphasis, our school goal, is to maximize student achievement–for them to do their best work. I invite you to support us in our efforts to help your child achieve their best in school by reaffirming this goal at home each night. I am confident that we all share the same vision of excellence and will team together to encourage our children to perform at their best, to do just a little bit better today than we did yesterday, to work as hard as we can.
Our PTSA joins us each year in rewarding our students' best effort and hard work with special celebrations of our students' achievement. We want to celebrate their successes to build a sense of self esteem that is meaningful, is deeply rooted in personal satisfaction built from working hard to achieve demanding but attainable goals of significant value. Patting students on the back for trivial effort or insignificant accomplishment actually demeans their self esteem and is counterproductive to their development.
I will also continue to stress with them the need to make good choices in what they do and in the friendships they develop. I will stress to them the fact that we become like the people with whom we associate. I believe that our parents have done a good job raising students who know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. At Mabry we will support that hard work by stressing to every student the need for him or her to make choices that will open doors of opportunity for them in the future.
And I encourage all of our parents to get to know your grade level guidance counselor. Mrs. Jackson and Mrs. Haag are an excellent resource and are here to support your child (and you) as you face challenges. You can also visit their blog throughout the year for updates and important information.
I spent a couple of weeks in Norway on vacation this summer. One morning at breakfast, with this dramatic view of a glacier and fjord in the distance (click to enlarge), I found a card with this quotation next to my plate, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." –Annie Dillard
I was reminded that, despite the tumultuous world in which we live, these are precious times, that each day we live we must consciously celebrate and affirm those we love. Each day we create the meaningfulness that is our lives–or, we don't. It's a day-to-day affair. It's a conscious effort. We can become swallowed up in thoughtless routines and endless distractions, or we can consciously savor the time we have with those we cherish. We can worry about all of the things that could go wrong, or we can deliberately attend to each of the life experiences that brings rich reward into the lives of each person in our families. I want to encourage us all to make this a conscious, daily practice.
I am confident that as we all work together we will find tremendous success for our students. At the end of this school year we will look back and celebrate Mabry's 28th year of academic excellence. You see, I'm very fond of saying, and in fact actually believe that, "The future's so bright, ya gotta wear shades!"