By Michael R. Pinto, Cohort 2, 4, & 6 Mentor and Principal at James Cole Elementary School
Are schools failing? Some say they are. If you look in any storeroom of any school, you would realize that’s not the case. You see, the storeroom tells the story. The storeroom in this picture tells a story about academics, but it also tells a different story. A story that often isn’t told enough or isn’t told completely.
Against the far wall of the storeroom you see a set of curricular adoption materials for each grade level. They are there because in a perfect world, kids would come to school to start the year, and they would stay the entire year. There wouldn’t be any movement. But that’s not the case. You see, rent comes due and folks don’t have it. Jobs change and people need to move, and children come and go throughout the year. That’s hard on children. It’s also hard on teachers. It’s also hard on schools that are graded by a measure taken once a year with repercussions called a letter grade. So the mission of the school remains instruction, but the storeroom tells the story of student movement. It tells the story of transiency. It tells the story of hard days, new names and faces, and worries that accompany students as they move from one school to another.
A blue canvas bag is spotted in the middle of the storeroom. It was placed there by the principal who had been rifling through the shelves finding the bag that held the treats for the treat box. These little trinket toys are given when a child is sent to the office for positives like showing respect, using good effort, or exercising initiative and patience. You see the school also teaches and reinforces soft skills, those intangibles that matter. The storeroom tells that story if you stop and listen.
Against the wall of shelving one sees a large wooden fence. It was there from a few weeks ago when the school celebrated veterans and grandparents in an afternoon of celebration. You see a school teaches math, reading, and writing, but it also teaches citizenship, patriotism, and respect. Veterans deserve this attention. It doesn’t just happen. It’s one more thing beyond the report card graded materials that teachers, including music teachers, do because it’s important. It’s also something that quite honestly will only get done in the schools. If the music teacher didn’t teach the American classics – those patriotic songs we hum without thought, who would? We learned them once … in a school. The fence reminds us also of the fact that so many of our children are being raised by their grandparents, because moms and dads have all sorts of worries or circumstances like incarceration and addiction that are robbing them of the chance to raise their own children. It falls on the grandparents, and bless them for it.
There is a coat rack filled with cleaned, gently used coats. These coats are donated by community members and organized by the parent organization. The storeroom tells the story that not all of our students have the basics like a warm coat for the winter. Things are expensive and although most folks have jobs, not all of these jobs pay enough of the bills to allow for replacements of such things as coats as frequently as moms and dads would like. So the school and the community intervene.
Resting on the floor is a blue and gray backpack. The storeroom tells another story here. It tells a story of children who are facing hunger. Each Thursday book bags go home filled with canned foods and other non-perishable items. These backpacks go home to help when ends don’t quite meet and a little more slack is needed to tie the knot. Schools are tasked with teaching reading, writing, and math, but they also are given the task of helping with some basic needs as well.
The storeroom holds a red tandem bike. It’s odd to see a tandem bike in a school. It’s out of place, but it’s there because students sometimes need an incentive to work toward a goal. A ride on the back of a tandem bike is motivation for making a reading goal met or completing a task, or behaving like a lady or a gentleman. Behavior matters and so does effort, follow-through, and grit. But mountains are often steep for some children, and what keeps them hiking forward are incentives that are non-caloric in nature (because we also are dealing with childhood obesity) and fun. Our mission is instruction, but sometimes we need to be able to give a gentle and comforting nudge. The tandem bike does that. The storeroom tells that story as well.
If you could peer behind the wooden wall, you would find a life size dummy and about six sets of helmets and body armor. You see there are programs schools do with children that encourage personal safety. They are presented by our school resource officers because now schools need to have locked doors and law enforcement readily on hand to deal with some of the challenges that children bring with them when they cross the front door threshold and also those from the outside that want to find their way inside and cause harm. Reading, writing, and mathematics are the mainstays of the curricular diet, but the storeroom tells the story that schools are also tasked with teaching personal safety. Society has changed and students need greater tools to be safe and to survive in some cases into their adult years. The schools are tasked with that effort as well. It’s just how it is.
The storeroom tells a story about a school that is so much more thorough and complete than one receives when you walk through the front doors. You see a school has many parts and pieces that one never sees. They are stowed safely away and out of sight most days in the storeroom or in the cabinets and lesson plan books of the teachers, but they are there. They tell a story much greater than assignments, tests, grades, and report cards. They tell about life, citizenship, personal safety, and well-being. The storeroom tells an important story. If you looked in any storeroom in any school across this land, you would read similar pages from the visuals you would find there. Because schools do so much more than people think or realize, and thank goodness they do. Because the mission remains children and that, as evidenced by the contents of the storeroom, hasn’t changed. The real challenge that lies ahead is to find enough shelf and floor space in these store rooms for all that is and will be tasked for schools in the future. While instruction remains the mission of our schools, if you want the real story of a school, peer inside the storeroom. You might just see how crowded and complete it has become.