Observing osmosis in eggs – the kind of learning that gets kids excited. That’s RTHS freshman Michael Wirsing on the right, and hey look, it’s Madison Daniel NOT in a cross country uniform.

Throughout the year, our biggest challenge at our new freshmen-only school has been convincing students of the importance of actually doing their assignments – especially homework.  I blame a multitude of factors, including but not limited to: many of them coming from schools where they weren’t expected to do any work, or just got promoted from grade to grade regardless of achievement; a lack of strong parenting to encourage their kids in their studies; the students having to get used to the “flipped” model and a new way of “doing school”; and the fact that, well, they’re freshmen.  Anyone who’s ever taught ninth graders, God love ’em, will understand that last one.

As a result of the inability of many of our students to complete their assignments, a lot of the progress reports that all the teachers handed out two weeks ago were not pretty.  We’ve also been handing out assignments of “working lunch” to students who miss certain homework assignments; on some days, we’ve had crowds in my classroom during lunch that would make the Charlotte Bobcats jealous.

Yesterday, I printed out updated progress reports for all of my students so that they’d know where they stood.  First off, I was impressed that so many students had made the effort to turn in assignments that they hadn’t bothered to complete.  Progress reports can be a very useful slap in the face for some students.  Furthermore, many students are doing better on their tests and quizzes; combine that with the lower number of zeroes, and most students’ grades are definitely going in the right direction.

But it’s not just about the grades.  It’s about changing the way kids view education and making them understand the value of doing their work and appreciating what we’re doing as a school community.  Perhaps nothing illustrated this for me better than something that happened this afternoon as I was handing out those progress reports.  I was giving them to the students as they entered the classroom; one kid, who hasn’t done much work over the course of the year but has had excellent test and quiz scores, took one look at his, mumbled some choice words, wadded the paper up, and threw it away.  I didn’t say anything to him, but I watched him after that.  He took a few steps toward his desk, but then stopped dead in his tracks for a second, turned around, and retrieved it from the trash can.  He then took it to his desk, smoothed it out, and started looking over it.  As I circulated around the room later in the period, he asked me where he could find his missing assignments online, and then became the first student of mine all year to volunteer himself for working lunch.

That episode in my class today reinforced that what we’re doing may be working.  It may take longer than we’d like as a faculty, but it’s progress.  And I expect great things from that student who reconsidered his lot and decided to do something about it instead of laying down and surrendering to urges that were perhaps allowed to prevail in him during his previous school experiences.  So many of our other students only need that one taste of excitement and success at school, and I’m convinced that they’ll thrive afterwards.  There’s plenty of reward in teaching the brightest and most motivated students, but it’s also a thrill to see students who were at one point marginal start to come around, get excited about their education, and succeed.

And maybe, just maybe, they’ll even do their homework.