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Fieldnotes Day 2

Uninhibited's picture

Today I went on another school visit with my supervisor. This time we visited a high school that has a Student Success Center, therefore, instead of meeting with a guidance counselor we met with the director of the center. Only a small portion of Philadelphia Public Schools have student success centers, which is determined by the funding that they receive. These centers are involved in many college access programs, mentoring, etc, but they vary between schools.
When I arrived at the school I was first struck by how huge it was. It had several floors, big hallways and big rooms. The murals on the wall made it seem welcoming but the size made me feel small. I wonder what the impact of architecture and space has on students. That is something that I hadn't thought about as thoroughly before, but the difference in size between this school and the last one I visited made it noticeable.
After arriving at the school, I went through a metal detector (which seemed so normal it was almost scary). My supervisor and I headed to Student Success Center which seemed to be in its own area within the school ( it even had its own hallway). The hallway lead to a big room with round tables and chairs, the walls were painted with bright yellows and green. There was an office adjacent to the room which is where the director welcomed us in. She was a young black woman, very engaged and passionate about the work she does. To my surprise, my supervisor told her why we were there ( to get information on what college access resources high schools offer) but she also expressed knowing her outside of the professional context.
We began by asking her to tell us the size/demographics of the school and then began our usual questions. What college access programs do you have? Who administers them? How many students participate? How do you select them? These were all questions that my supervisor and I created on the first day of my placement. What stuck out the most to me from her answers was how much of her work was influenced by her own beliefs about education and how this was constraint by standard set both by funders and by the district. She spoke about how some programs worked really well but couldn't be replicated because of the way funding worked. She said that although the Student Success center serves all of the students  at the school only  28% of them go on to college. The mood in the room instantly went down when she said that she wonders if her work does indeed have any meaning.
It was difficult to see how constraining having outside people giving you mandates can be for teachers. Especially since we were coming from one of those constraining institutions.
I wondered what would happen if money was allocated in a way that fits the needs as those working within the school define them. Perhaps it is a specific college access program or funding for the arts, or another math teacher to being down class size. Either way, what's the pointing of pouring money if there are other more pressing needs?


jccohen's picture

constraining institutions


Your description of the school as a space that had an impact on you gives a sense of this environment and raises interesting and troubling questions.  I find myself wondering how this sense of being small, along with the metal detector, may affect students even though they may not realize this kind of impact. 

You describe the woman in the SSC as 'engaged and passionate' about her work.  How could you tell?  You also talk about her critique of the way funding can impact programming.  I'd like to hear more about how this played out for her program; was she doing some kinds of things that weren't having demonstrable impact in the funders' terms?  On the one hand, you and your supervisor are part of this, as you say; on the other, I wonder whether you (or she) might be in a position to let the prgram director's concerns be known...  Is she also a teacher in the school?