On Friday, November 18, I had the opportunity to visit—in my opinion—one of the greatest schools in the Valley. In lieu of two days of class, our Culture and Schooling professor arrange a school visit to Valley View Elementary School. Valley View is a K-8 Title 1 school located in a low-income, rural, and a predominantly Hispanic community in South Phoenix. This school was not what I expected. Given the demographics, one would think that this school is not a high-achieving school. Although Valley View may not be listed as a high-performing school, it is.
One thing that I’ve noticed with the education reform movement in U.S. is that we’ve forgotten the difference between education and schooling. It seems that the system today is more focused on schooling rather than educating our students. We are so focused on what scores students can produce that we subconsciously begin to track and segregate our students. With the pressure of high-stakes testing, we’ve lost sight of the whole child. We’ve stopped valuing the child for who they are as a person. We’ve ignored the personality of our students; their talents; their culture. Students are seen as a test score and they feel it. When schools take away music, arts, and athletic programs, they feel it. When teachers teach more reading, writing, and math than other content areas such as science and social studies, they feel it.
Valley View values the whole child. The school fought the harsh English Only law and has eliminated the SEI (Structured English Immersion) program which would segregate their English Language Learners from their English-speaking peers. Instead, they adopted the Dual Language (bilingual) program which values the primary language and culture of their English Language Learners and allows English-speaking students to learn a new language (Spanish). Teachers also demonstrate respect for their students’ culture by incorporating it into the curriculum. The school has one of the best music programs in the Valley. They even have a 7th and 8th grade Latin jazz band! The school also has a 5th through 8th grade athletics program. The most unique features about this school are their farm animals and their orchard. As part of the students’ “specials,” they are allowed to sign up to feed and water the animals and clean their cages while learning about the animals. As an Expeditionary School, the work students do in the orchard is connected to the math, science, and language arts curriculum focusing on bigger ideas such as native culture, sustainability, labor rights, world hunger.
All of these great programs are reflected in the students’ behavior and academic achievement. When we visited the classrooms, the level of student engagement was unbelievable! In a combined 3rd and 4th grade classroom we visited, students were busy working on their project about animal migration while the teacher was having individual student meetings in the back of the classroom. Not a single student in this classroom was off task. They were all focused, working hard, and engaging in group discussion. The learning in this classroom was definitely student-driven.
Our next classroom visit took place in a 7th grade science classroom. The visit to this classroom had the greatest impact on me. As soon as we entered the classroom, we noticed the banners of all the different colleges and universities across the U.S. posted all around the classroom. The teacher had the students grouped according to different universities. Instead of saying, “Discuss with your group,” he would say, “In your universities, discuss…” There were motivational quotes all over the room. The words, “Impossible is nothing. Si se puede!” were written outside and inside the classroom. The teacher had created a classroom culture and environment in which going to college is possible regardless of where you come from. The energy from the teacher was incredible! And the students responded very well from it. They were all engaged in the lesson about writing hypotheses. Not one student was off task. The level of intellect and maturity in the classroom was beyond that of a 7th grade classroom. The teacher had taught the students to respond to a disagreement by saying, “I respectfully disagree…”
This Friday was probably one of the best experiences out of the entire semester. The principal, teachers, and staff at this school are all dedicated to the success of the students. Valley View educates students. They value the whole student, not just what score they can produce on a standardized test. They see talent and potential in every student regardless of disability, race, and socioeconomic status. The academic success of these students is measured in their passion for learning and the teachers’ passion for teaching. Although it is not written anywhere that Valley View is a high-achieving low-income school, I know it is. It is seen and felt in the passion exerted from the students and staff. As a future educator, this is the school I want to teach in.