Madison Metropolitan School District
As one day stretched into my three weeks, I became more and more impressed with Shabazz.
As a retired educator with slightly more than 35 years working in the Madison Metropolitan School District, I can only describe the last few months as dispiriting.
I've watched as our new governor has apparently chosen public educators and public employees as his primary targets in a campaign that appears to be more about politics than economics. My pride in my profession and fears about the future of public schools in Wisconsin have been shaken greatly.
I have protested at the Capitol and appeared before the Senate Education Committee when it was considering a revision in the law pertaining to charter schools in our state. The governor wants to move approval of charter schools from a process involving local school board control and supervision to one driven by a state board molded by political appointees.
And yet, in my almost 60 years in this life, I have found that sometimes opportunities present themselves at exactly the right time. In this situation, it came in the form of a call from a former colleague and friend. She asked if I would consider filling in for her as the school social worker at Shabazz City High School while she recovered from minor surgery.
The assignment would involve about three weeks and give me a chance to experience Shabazz, an alternative high school located on Madison's northeast side. After a short deliberation, I decided it was exactly what I needed to dispel some of the bad taste in my mouth caused by recent political events.
My first day at Shabazz included an early arrival to get organized and acclimated to new surroundings. As is my custom, I turned on a computer to listen to NPR and some classical music as I prepared for the day. In short order, I heard beautiful classical violin but realized I hadn't yet connected with NPR! Rather, this beautiful music was coming from a girl in the hall practicing for an upcoming performance.
I spoke to the girl, a senior, and learned she had been playing for about seven years. I later saw her taking a prospective student on a tour of Shabazz and couldn't help but think what a wonderful representative she would be.
My first day at Shabazz also included a visit from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stopped by to speak to a student assembly after appearing at East High School that morning. His speech was inspiring and focused on the responsibilities of youth and the importance of voting and being politically involved. At this point I was two hours into my first day and well aware that this was the exactly where I needed to be.
As one day stretched into my three weeks, I became more and more impressed with Shabazz. This is an environment where students like and are curious about the adults working with them. And the teachers and staff return the favor.
Within the first week, I had several teachers approach me and ask me to simply check on a student they were concerned about. In doing so, I found that the relationship between student and teacher was so strong and built out of trust that it made my job as a counselor easier. Often it takes longer to build trust with students; at Shabazz it's part of their foundation of respect and acceptance for each other.
I was also impressed by the stellar curriculum offerings which stress service learning and offer extensions of conventional learning. One example is the Native American/Indian History course that will be spending spring break on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. I'm really not sure how you can make learning much more real.
As my third week concluded, I had reservations about leaving. It was such a gift to me during this difficult political chapter to see a public school working so well for so many. I only hope that the excellence that has come to define schools like Shabazz is allowed to survive.
Thom Evans retired in 2008 after 35 years with the Madison school district, including being the school social worker at Allis Elementary, Whitehorse Middle School and Memorial High School. He was named Wisconsin School Social Worker of the Year in 2008.