Yesterday I attended the first Michigan Joint Education Conference. The conference itself was good. The presenters had useful, interesting, relevant information to share and I brought back much I can take to my classroom and implement this fall. The exhibitors were all there, with tons of freebies and information. The box lunch was pretty typical.
What struck me most about the experience though was the location. Holt High School opened its doors to the groups sponsoring the event. Never before has the divide between the have's and have not's in education been so apparent to me. A map of the facility (complex seems a more appropriate word!) gives little evidence of the lush atmosphere of this building. From the widescreen TV's mounted on the wall along the cafeteria/commons area, to the SmartBoards in each classroom, no detail was ignored when this building was built. It is simply amazing. Wide halls with beautiful lockers siding the carpeted floors, which are set up in small nook-like areas, surround courtyards full of perennials lining stone paths winding by picnic tables. Bathrooms are small, but spaced frequently. Everything is new and clean and shiny though the building has been there for several years.
Sitting in the classrooms for sessions, I was first struck by how much storage space was there for supplies. The window wall had counter height cupboards, with others above beside the huge windows, most of which looked over the courtyards areas. Another closet area was in front, with some other area in the corner. Each room's SmartBoard was projected onto by the ceiling projector. On the teacher desk's were document readers and a desktop computer and a phone that looked more complex than my laptop.
My own classroom is tiny in comparison to these rooms, and since I teach in the middle school, my room is nearly twice the size of most of our high school classrooms, which were built a century ago. Instead of listening to the presenters, I find myself configuring my classes in here, moving desks around into communities of learners, instead of locked into the one possible configuration that supports the needs in my own room. I fantasize about the huge whiteboards, the birds at the feeder I would hang outside those windows, the hummingbirds darting to sip nectar from their feeders.
This building is set in what no doubt was a farm field, now devastated by urban sprawl, evident by the beautiful subdivisions of homes surrounding the old one room brick schoolhouse on the corner, a reminder of days forgotten.
On the way out of the building, I noticed a room marked "Staff Lounge" and could not resist popping my head in. TWO new refrigerators, TWO new microwaves, TWO complete ranges, an entire wall of cupboards with counter space for many to work, lots of tables beckoned me in. Three custodial staff sat there on break, eager to talk and brag about their building. They told me another lounge was upstairs, and that this building houses 1700 students grades 10-12, with the 9th graders (900 of them) housed across the road in their own building.
My own school seems dingy and dirty and just simply poor in comparison, like we are the wicked step-children banished to the old, leftover, used up education.
I know that education is more than a building. I know that kids learn from teachers who care, not because a room is shiny and new. But how would my students feel if they can see this building and compare it to our small, crowded, old digs?
Why is it acceptable for some districts to have it all while others are struggling to keep their doors open? Why is it acceptable for my students to learn while a bucket collects the water dripping from the leak in the roof while Holt students watch big screens as they eat lunch? Does it bother anyone besides ME?