“Wow, you're tall,” a first-grader said to me in a lunch line close to the Garfield school entrance. His teacher and an educational assistant were nearby, making sure the lunch line was moving well.
“You're almost as tall as my dad!” he exclaimed.
Then he got his food, found a table with his classmates, and began his meal. This boy, only 6 or 7 years old, showed me in those brief seconds that he felt safe, confident, connected to others ... and hungry! I walked around the hallways of his school. The building is clean, students know their “jobs,” and the staff is friendly and extremely busy.
What do students need? At the most basic level, students need to be safe, they need to be known, and they need to be engaged. Schools need to support learners with safety, predictability, and positive relationships. Knowing and caring about our students ensures great successes and possibilities for learning.
Later that same day kindergarten teachers and assistants at Riverside discussed the high expectations and the goals educators set for themselves. Teachers, educational assistants, and the school principal detailed the challenges of meeting the learning targets set for over 140 new kindergarteners. While the conversation ranged from safety to special needs to resources, this team spoke with great professional insight about what they need to do to ensure that all of their five-year-olds read, write, work with other children, do math, and like school.
What do students need? They need passionate professionals, who are the best in our business, in front of them every day. The single largest factor in the success of our students is the quality of the people we put in front of them.
That same afternoon school district officials taped an informational program in the high school television studio. While four of us sat on the set and shared important information for our community regarding the upcoming operating levy election on Nov. 8, Dan and Austin (two of Dave Henschke's students in Advanced Television Production) ran cameras while we talked about the approaching levy. Staying after school to help tape this show, these young men behaved like seasoned veterans of the television industry ... because they are. They silently heeded production cues through their headsets, switched shots and angles effortlessly, focused on a live dialogue, and — as students have done in this and other school programs for decades — they served their school and community.
What do students need? They need authentic, relevant tasks appropriate for their age. Young people need meaningful work to do. They need great opportunities. They need the expectation that they develop skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will be expected of them outside the walls and halls of our schools.
Upon leaving the high school, students dressed in blue and white passed by; their conversation was related to Homecoming. Homecoming at Brainerd High School is an annual phenomenon. Through pep fests, parades, contests, and a dance, the students celebrate the Warrior Way. The fact that Homecoming is shared more and more as a community event has been a source of pride and thanks for many of us in the school system. Students learn in their schools, but they also learn through the much broader context of our community.
What do students need? They need their community to promote a fearless vision of what they can become. They need us to support their hard work. They need us to support their needs in time, talent, and resource to ensure that they succeed for the good of all of us.
STEVE RAZIDLO is Brainerd School District superintendent.