Monday, July 12, 2010

Blind Side Tomatoes - Providing Student Support

One of my tomato plants has a problem.  It's a good problem to have - it's growing too big.  I put a "cage" approximately two feet in diameter made out of fencing wire around each of my tomato plants.  The cage provides support for the plants as they grow larger and begin bearing fruit.  The plant in question has already produced two tomatoes weighing one pound each.  On average, its fruit weighs about ten ounces.  The problem for this plant is its branches have grown over the top of the cage and continue to get longer.  Right now it's not a problem.  In a couple of weeks when that branch has anywhere from two to five pounds of beautiful orange-red tomato flesh hanging from it, those branches will be drooping over the edge, possibly breaking.  I'm trying to figure out now how I'm going to provide support for the plant.

A few weeks ago I finished reading The Blind Side: Evolution of the Game by Michael Lewis.  The movie was great, but it doesn't come close to conveying how much support the Tuoys provided for Michael Oher.  If you don't know the basis of the movie and its true story, click here for a synopsis.  In the book, Leigh Anne Tuoy said her goal was to provide as much support for Michael as possible so that he, a gifted young black athlete from the worst part of Memphis and with virtually no education, could navigate and succeed in the academic AND white world of privilege.  Forget for a moment, if you can, that all of this was motivated by the selfless love of this family.  The list of support measures is endless - tutoring, constant dialogue with his teachers, coaches, and recruiters; financial intervention, social skill intervention . . .

One of my favorite supports was the realization by Leigh Anne that Michael had more than his physical prowess going for him at left tackle.  In middle school, he had scored in the ninetieth percentile on "protective instincts".  Could there be a better skill for the player most responsible for protecting the quarterback?  To me, that's just an amazing example of helping a student identify his strengths and then use them for his success.

The start of the school year is just over a month away.  I'm very excited about this year because I am looping with a majority of my students from last.year.  Last year was so successful on many different levels, in part because of the new support mechanisms we put into place.  Like many schools, we began implementing RTI. Another support was a reading remediation program called Language!  Before, that program was only used with our lowest exceptional children students.  We realized it had many benefits for our low performing students in the regular classroom.  The results were amazing in terms of their end of grade testing scores AND their overall performance in the classroom.

These are great measures, but we can't stop there.  A lot of these students need 1:1 mentoring.  Where are we going to find to enough mentors?  The home situations of many of these kids is unsupportive.  How will we as a school step in and fill the gap?  How will we empower the family to provide that support themselves?  How can we assist a middle school student to say no to pressures and cultural norms that glorify gang membership and denigrate academic success, regardless of your ability?  As a school we must become Leigh Anne Tuoy.  We must find whatever resources available to provide the support.  Creative partnerships must be forged.  A new way of thinking must be inculcated that breaks out of all the old patterns of doing things when they were designed to serve the average-already-going-to-succeed student.  And yes, we probably need to prepare ourselves to do a little more work.  These kids are going to bear so much awesome fruit if we do.

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