This quote by educator George Couros has become a personal mission of mine. While I once thought that it was nearly impossible to change people’s perception of what Allegan Alternative High School is and who our students truly are, I have begun to feel differently.
While there will always be those who cling to stereotypes and misinformation, I have always felt strongly that to know our students is to love our students.
But how exactly do you make this happen? How do we share our students with our community?
I think the answer begins by finding opportunities to not only bring students out into the community, but also to bring the community in. Even if it starts with a simple email….
A lesson centered around communication asked students to write a professional email to a community member. One recipient, Dee Dee Hanson, was so pleased to receive this email and see our work on soft skills, that she asked if she could come to school to meet her three “Pen Pals.”
After she had met and chatted with these three students, she expressed an interest in getting to know more of them. One conversation led to another and the next thing you know she suggests taking the entire school to Barnes and Noble — where they would get a tour and be treated to a book of their choice and then go out to lunch at Applebee’s.
There was only one catch — instead of piling the whole school into a bus and going, she wanted small groups. Why? So she could truly get to know as many students as possible.
Within a month, five small groups each had their “Dee Dee Day.” Eyes were wide as students entered the book store, for many their first time in a Barnes and Noble. So. Many. Choices. From poetry to mythology, graphic novels to sports, every student found a book that was a reflection of their unique selves. The excitement was palpable. Even Dee Dee herself couldn’t help but get swept up — “Go get the whole trilogy,” I would hear her say or “You’re just getting this one book? Go back and find a second one.” Her generosity was mind blowing.
With hands filled with books, we walked next door to Applebee’s. As students took over a section of booths, many scooted into the large corner booth. And that is exactly where Dee Dee would choose to sit. Because that gave her access to the most students. She asked about their journey and how they ended up at our school. She heard about their lives, their struggles, their hopes and future plans. As we said our goodbyes, students, unprompted, began hugging Dee Dee one by one. It was clear they felt the love in Dee Dee’s heart.
Dee Dee continues to visit our school and be an advocate for our students. She already has a few more tricks up her sleeve…
But we won’t soon forget these “Dee Dee Days” where students were treated to books, lunch, and a whole lot of love.
Each time a student said thank you to Dee Dee, she would respond, “I’m the lucky one. I got to spend time with you.”
To know our students, is to love our students.
Thank you to Dee Dee and to all of our families and community members who continue to get to know our students and support them in ways big and small.
Written by Laura Feffer, Principal