Friday, September 12, 2014

Present Perfect

     Times have changed, and not for the better. I live with photographical evidence of that fact in my classroom everyday. At any given time, I can pick a year and step back in time. I can lose myself in the crinolines and taffeta of the pristine prom of the 1950's or the committed and passionate protests of the '60's and '70's. That's the wonder of being the yearbook adviser. It's like every year has been cryogenically frozen and preserved and when this world is unpleasant I can simply slip into another year and get lost, absorbed in innocence, freedom from technology and what was pictured as a society and culture that raised generation after generation of citizens who cared about their country, their school and themselves.
   Today was one of those rare days where I didn't wander anywhere near the shelves holding those books, those portals that would sweep me into a "better" time. Today, in my little corner of the world, it was present perfect.
   It was student involvement day and my classroom was buzzing with a variety of students, seniors through sophomores who were slowly preparing to sell an idea they had themselves bought into: school spirit. I'm talking about old school school spirit - the kind that makes you hum along to "Be True To Your School," makes you want to own a letterman's sweater, makes you want to be somebody's "best girl" or "guy." See, a group of students had decided that they wanted to leave their mark on the school in a way that didn't involve the negativity that is plunked all over the media, that is touted as the "apathy of the millenials." They decided they wanted to breathe life back into the ghost of School Pride.
   Some of you may not understand why this is a big deal. Some of you won't care why this IS in fact a big deal. For those of you who haven't been in a modern high school, things have changed. Some might say they haven't changed for the better. Most would agree. I used to be one that would agree but Mexico High School has changed my mind.
   In so many ways, it must be understood that a school is like a church. You can build a building and call it a church. You can build a building and call it a school. But neither of them are truly the essence of their own meaning until they are inhabited. And let me tell you something about Mexico High School: it is being inhabited.
   We've seen glimpses in the past few years. Those students who grab hold of an idea and turn it into something living and breathing. We've seen the excitement for events and most importantly, the willingness to support those who are different. But this is something more, this is deeper, this is something that is going to resonate as you watch the sophomore student become enthusiastic about it because a senior student has invited them to become involved and passionate. This is... wait for it... epic.
   There were just a few at first, at the end of last year, who came to me and expressed that they thought the Dawg Pound, the unofficial student pep club, needed to become official and organized. It seemed like a good idea at the time... which is also the unofficial story of my life, so I said I would sponsor them. Hundreds of spirit bracelets, posters, tweets and QR codes later, we offered our idea up to the student body today at student involvement day. The students, they came... but it didn't have anything to do with the bracelets or the tweeting. It started way before we did...
   The feeling of our school has changed. Something about it has become more genuine, more caring, more student-friendly. You find it odd that a school wasn't student-friendly? If you want to know the main problem with education today, it is that most schools are not student-friendly. But what is happening at Mexico High School isn't just the students catching on to the school spirit idea.
   The teachers are trying new things, getting brave, going out on a limb to engage students. The teachers are smiling at each other, fellowshipping with one another and creating an atmosphere that speaks to students of acceptance and respect. And those students will mirror what they will see. The administrators are supporting the teachers and the students. It didn't happen over night and in all truth it could end tomorrow. But I don't think it will...
   Not when you have a football team that arranges a fundraiser for their opponent's coach's wife who has cancer; or when you have an organization that is forming with the purpose of making sure there is a network of support among community members, school officials and local businesses who can meet the need of a student or family with immediacy. It won't end, not when you have teachers working so hard to find ways to help make their students succeed not only now but in the future, and parents who are so supportive and involved that they can walk down the halls and speak to every kid they meet by name.
   See, those are signs of a great school, the kind of idyllic school pictured in those old yearbooks with the perfectly coiffed young ladies and the handsome, smiling young men who look like they took the time to iron their clothes every single school day. We'll never be able to go back to that; we know way too much to go back to that. But what really mattered to me today as I cut out little strips of paper to staple to bracelets and stapled the football coach's face to a paint stick was that I really didn't want to be anywhere or any when but right then and right there. It seems that after so many years, we are finally reaching the edge of present perfect.