Crisis in Education? Not at this School

I recently spent Buddy Morning in the 2nd grade classroom at City Academy, a private elementary school located in the inner city of St. Louis. Each guest was paired with a student, then the teacher guided the children and their buddies through a typical lesson.

The morning’s assignment was to write a story. My buddy’s job was to write about “All the things the sun sees in a day.” Additionally, the word “amazement” was printed at the bottom of her prompt.

Before they began, the teacher spent about five minutes reviewing elements that make a good story. Hands flew up with suggestions: “Use both long and short sentences.”  “You need a beginning, middle and end.” “Use your voice.” Okay, so second graders learn to organize their thoughts and vary the length of sentences, but voice?!

I’m not familiar with 2nd grade curricula, but I do know a little about teaching, because I’ve taught at a community college writing center for the past eleven years. The majority of our students live in the same demographic area as the City Academy children and I’d wager that way too few of the college kids are aware of voice in their writing. For one, it takes practice to develop your writing voice and it helps to be well read. Also, many of our students are in developmental reading and English classes. They’re in these classes because they weren’t fortunate enough go to a school like City Academy.

City Academy now has it’s own building, but it opened 14 years ago in borrowed space. At the time, the student body was 100% black and the majority needed full tuition assistance. Today, the school is 88% black and most families still need tuition aid, but many of the graduates are now thriving in local secondary schools and colleges around the country.

I could write a book about my morning in 2nd grade, but for the sake of time, let me just say:\

● Too many American children and young adults can’t read or write adequately.

● Too many other countries are doing a better job than we are of preparing children for the future .

● I wish our citizens would demand that every child in America receive a first class education. Then pay for it.

● It doesn’t matter if a child is rich, poor, black, white, homeless or lives in a palace. He or she can, and should, get an excellent education in this country.

● We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create excellence in our classrooms; just ask City Academy.

● There is hope for the future.

P.S. The word “Amazement” was the voice my 7 year-old hostess had to use in her story. After noticing some hesitation on her part, I was happy to make myself useful and asked if she knew what amazement meant. She wasn’t too sure. My one minute lesson got her on track and she started writing, but I was the one who sat there in amazement.

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