Friday, November 11, 2011

A School is More than a Building

I was in Las Vegas last week attending an education conference with Trish McCarty. Whenever we attend conferences in other cities or states, we try to visit a few of the schools in the area. On this trip, we had time to visit only one school.

The visit brought to mind something that I have noticed over and over when visiting other schools.

A school building is just a box. What counts is what happens inside the box.

Here is a perfect example: The school we visited was new and large. I am sure it was a very expensive school to build, probably, costing 10’s of millions of dollars. However, the building was grey metal and brown block and very stark with very few windows facing the street. There were no flowers or gardens in the front and on each side of the building a sign was posted that said, “You are under surveillance.” It was not a very appealing or welcoming place. I kept thinking of a kindergartener walking up to the school for the first time. I could almost see the fear and panic on his face.  

We walked into the front office and were greeted by the receptionist. Although, we had made an unannounced visit we asked to meet with one of the administrators. The receptionist said she would see if she could find someone to talk with us.

As I waited, I looked around the reception area. There was a very expensive and ‘state of the art’ display of all the donors to the school. However, there was no student work or student art on the walls or displayed anywhere that I could see.

I looked out the window and saw students lining up. Most of the students were not paying any attention to the teachers who were trying to get them to form two lines; boys on one side and girls on the other. No one seemed to be smiling.

Pretty soon, a teacher walked in to the office area where we were waiting. She walked hunched over with a scowl on her face and a harried look. Her clothes were frumpy and poorly fitted. Her hair looked like it needed a good brushing.

After about 30 minutes of waiting the receptionist came, back to say that there was no administrator available at that time to talk with us and that perhaps next time we should make an appointment. So – we thanked them and walked out.

The interesting thing is this –
No one at the school introduced themselves.
They had no idea who we were or why we had stopped to visit.

If I were a parent with a child at that school, I would wonder:
Who was more important the children or the donors?
Why the children were not listening to the teachers?
Why the teachers were not smiling and why they looked like they just got out of bed?
I’d wonder if my child could learn in an environment like this or if I’d want to learn in an environment like this.

So – the next time you visit a school take a close look and remember:
A school building is just a box. What counts is what happens inside the box.

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