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The Nation’s High Schools—Springboards to Greatness

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
April 25, 2022

Ever wonder what it is like to be a high school student in present times? We hear all kinds of stories and anecdotes, and although there are certainly regional differences, high school students want a better overall experience—that’s the focus of this article. In 2019, the New York Times conducted a survey on 300 high school students entitled, “What Students Are Saying About How to Improve American Education.” Here are some of the more prominent comments from high school students from that study:

  • “I stay up well after midnight every night working on homework because it is insanely difficult to balance school life, social life and extracurriculars while making time for family traditions.”
  • “The expectations that I wish that my teachers and school have of me is that I am only human and that I make mistakes”
  • “School has become a place where we just do work, stress and repeat but there has been nothing changed.”
  • “The most I’ve gotten out of school so far was my Civics & Economics class, which hardly even touched what I’d actually need to know for the real world. We need to learn about real life, things that can actually benefit us.”
  • “We divide school time as though the class itself is the appetizer and the homework is the main course.”
  • “The classes in which I succeed in most are the ones where the teachers are very funny. I find that I struggle more in classes where the teachers are very strict. I think this is because I love laughing.”

There are many areas of the national high school experience that we can improve on that mostly require training, effort and discipline—here are four of them:

Campus Environment.

Overcrowding is a huge challenge on many campuses. It leads to severe problems during “passing periods” where hallways are far too full with students trying to get to their next class. This can increase the number of “tardies.” Having students arrive late to class is a disruption and robs the class of valuable teaching time. A nice, clean, bright and cheery campus can do wonders to elevate student morale.

Classroom Environment.

There are no stock answers as to what works the best in this area, simply because teachers have so many different backgrounds, ages, biases and pre-dispositions. It seems to me that when a teacher grants their students the utmost respect, that respect is usually returned. The expectation is that the teacher establishes a rapport with the student and wherever possible, the parents as well. Teachers, Assistant Principals (AP) and counselors should work in unison to quickly diagnose problem areas and coordinate solutions as a team. At our high school, we are fortunate that the campus principal encourages all team members to work together to solve student issues—I have not seen any finger-pointing at all. Another thing that works well to establish a nice classroom environment is humor—as appropriate during class conversation. The students love it and become more engaged as a result.

Classroom Academics.

Interactive learning can make for better learning for most students. Project learning is great because it places learning in context, allowing students to see how it applies—more ownership by the student for individual learning is the result. Debates allow students to work in groups, learn from each other, understand small group leadership dynamics and stay engaged. Teachers can also avail themselves of the numerous “adapted for classroom” interactive games, such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Jeopardy and Family Feud. Students generally respond well to them. Storytelling is another popular way to make classes more engaging. For example, when I taught immigration as a part of government policy, I often talked about my grandparents who immigrated from Italy in the 1920s.

Teacher Quality.

Studies show that an accomplished teacher can make all the difference at a school. We need to cultivate and train more of them, and attract them to the teaching field from other professions—especially to high schools. The result could be a much richer high school experience. Former Texas Attorney General John Ben Shepperd said about teachers: “I have always thought that to be a teacher, a person has to have a great love of children, or of truth, or of both. There are many hardships that weed out the weaklings from your ranks, so that I can honestly say Show me a good teacher, and I’ll show you a person of character.”

Summary.

This article serves to generate interest among those who would like to know more about the high school experience in their community. I encourage parents to engage with their high school teachers, administrators and counselors to the benefit of their child. Public high schools must prepare young people for one of three eventualities: higher education, workplace or serving the nation in our military. High schools must not be a waypoint on the road to nowhere—rather, they must be springboards to greatness.


Author: Dr. Robert Brescia respects the wisdom of generations, promotes the love of learning, teaches ethics to university students, government & politics to AP seniors, and leadership to organizations. The Governor of Texas appointed him to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). He is also a candidate for the National Board for Certification of Teachers (NBCT) – the gold standard for the teaching profession. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Robert_Brescia.

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