A Reflection from our Chief Executive Officer Dutchess Maye:
When I receive an invitation to attend special events, speak for occasions, or interact with students, I am not likely to tell a school for which I consult “no.” Opportunities such as these give me greater insight into what makes great schools, what creates a community of individuals, and what promotes active learning.
Via invitation, I accompanied some 60+ students, 11 teachers, and Michael White, the principal Jones Middle School to Wilmington, NC, to chronicle on foot the events from the historical fiction CROW by Barbara Wright. Through 99-degree heat and a quick but drenching humidity-inducing downpour, I trooped along with my own group of six students through the wet streets of Wilmington from one historical site to the next. I believe the journey, which was designed to bring a text to life, was well worth the sweat.
CROW is a gripping little first person narrative told by 11-year old protagonist Moses. If you google the title, GoodReads’ reviewers present mixed reviews (3.91 stars) on this text, which relives one of many possible stories that could have taken place during the Wilmington race riots of 1898. I enjoyed the novel, finding more and more that I remain attracted to young adult literature for its innocent tenacity of tackling difficult themes. I would wholeheartedly give the novel a full 5 stars for bringing to light dark moments that merged the South into Jim Crow, for exposing a dimly secreted past, and for honoring the endurance of life-sacrificing courage. More impressive than the text’s historical account were students’ comprehension, connection, and catharsis, which bubbled to the surface when they came foot to foot with Moses’ daily trek and stood face to facade with the Cotton Exchange, Thalian Hall, and the somber meagerness of the possible slave quarters the character Boo Nanny could have once called home.
Yet still more impressive than the text or the students was the principal–a young, handsome, funny guy whose zest for adventure, intuitiveness for instruction, and genuine love for his students are his most obvious and endearing qualities. My visits to schools are many; my interactions with principals, extensive; and I have yet to meet an administrator as fully engaged as he. He planned every aspect of the trip down to minute, including the variety of instructional activities that ranged from creating digital postcards (via iPads) to video productions of student discussions. Because they would be in close proximity anyway, he planned a quick jaunt to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher with activity buses taking an unexpected but necessary detour so his students–many of whom had never even peeked at our Atlantic–could experience North Carolina’s shore. I think everyone was delighted to be treated at the principal’s personal expense to a “single scoop on a regular cone,” as he clearly specified, from the city’s well-known and much loved Kilwin’s Ice Cream and Candy. Delicious! Really, that ice cream was the most delectable any of us had ever tasted, and typical of pre-teens, many exclaimed the cold treat was the highlight of the long day’s hot events. After having bounced through downtown with more enthusiasm and energy than most of us, the principal himself acted as disc jockey for the students’ dinner cruise, spinning tunes that sent 7th graders racing to the dance floor. Finally, his most shining and admirable moment–for me, anyway–rests in the fact that rather than sitting with adults, he planted himself at the back of the bus with sweat-reeked adolescents and settled in for the long ride home. Surely, he worked harder and gave more of himself than any of us.
Fieldtripping is worth the money and the time because students are worth both, but it takes educators like this principal to create the added-value, mixing strong instructional engagement with naturally-produced fun. I thought when I returned home that my most significant reflection would be a greater connection to book CROW–that I would look on the city of Wilmington and the horrible and still hazy events of 1898 with some newfound awe and reverence–and maybe these appreciations are overshadowed by more present day concerns or maybe I viewed this excursion with more of a consultant’s eye than a reader’s. What is most relevant at this moment, however, is that I returned more empowered with the potential of educational leadership, more informed about how to make learning really meaningful and really “real,” and more aware how educators can impact the lives of students with things as simple as time, sand, ice cream, enthusiasm, energy, music, and most of all, undivided attention. #consultlife