📚🏫New school column by Mr. Monfredo 📚

My Dream School

By John Monfredo, retired WPS teacher and principal and former Worcester School Committee member

Little girl in downtown Worcester. CECELIA file photo.

As a lifelong educator, teacher, principal and former Worcester School Committee member, I am passionate about public education. Tom Brokaw was right when he stated: “There is a place in America to take a stand: it is public education. It is the underpinning of our cultural and political system. It is the great common ground. Public education after all is the engine that moves us as a society toward a common destiny. … It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape.”

As a community we need to do all that we can to provide the best education for all of our children. Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets and no one solution to achieving this goal. But if the community and the schools work together, we can achieve success. In the next few months the state funding issue will play a huge part in moving our WPS forward because, once again, COVID money will be available.

As a society and as a school system, every decision we make should be focused on the questions “Is this best for our children? Can we do more?

Let me create for you an imaginary journey through “My Dream School” …

First, the additional funding, at the request of the school principal, was spent on hiring additional teachers to keep the teacher-pupil ratio down … then they started a full-day Preschool Program … funding was set aside for tutors, additional teacher assistants, a robust after-school program with opportunities available for remedial learning and playing a musical instrument, a strong summer school program, and students being involved in community service. COVID funding also went to purchase books for the school library.

The extra money was put into the school – and not used for system-wide administrative needs.

Now let’s visit my dream school:

As you walk with me into the school for the first time you see signs that welcome parents into the building. The office staff greet you with a warm smile and say, “Thank you for coming into our school … how can we assist you?” You are then escorted to the newly refurbished Parent Room. The walls in the room are full of suggestions on how you can assist your child in learning, and there are posters everywhere on the walls with messages such as “The most important 20 minutes of the day is reading with your child.” Another poster that caught our attention was: “A house without books is like a room without windows.”

As we continue our walk, every corridor has a positive message: for example, “Reading is the Real Magic Carpet.” There is display of books and pictures of students flying on a magic carpet reading a book.

Next, outside the teachers’ lounge, there is another quote that serves as a reminder to staff: “There are no learning gaps in children, only opportunity gaps. It is our job to close the opportunity gaps.”

We also see a giant calendar for the month listing all of the activities taking place in the school and a list of teacher and parent workshops. Teachers have workshops next week on “Read, Write and Lead.” Teachers also have a collaborative meeting tomorrow by grade level to plan together and have time to discuss individual children. In my dream school all of the children in their classes are viewed as “their” children. The teachers work on developing effective strategies that benefit both the children and their families. We are told that the families love this idea of teachers accessing the educational setting and making collaborative decisions based on the best interests of the students and families. Meaningful homework takes place each school day to reinforce what the child has learned or simply to ask the child to read pages from the library book supplied by the school.

As we venture forward, we see a sign-up sheet for a monthly “Read Aloud Day” for parents to volunteer to come in and read in one of the classrooms. There is a flyer for this Friday evening’s reading party … PJ Reading Night – come and meet Harry Potter! In addition, kindness plays an important role in this school, as we see quotes such as “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain.

More important, the school practices what it preaches, for staffers go out of their way to make parents feel that they are an important part of the school’s success. The school makes it a point to let the children KNOW that they are special with a tag stating, “Student of the Week.”

Quietly we walk into a few of the classrooms in my dream elementary school to see the activities taking place. We are greeted with a warm smile by the teachers, and we see parents as volunteers working with a few of the children. The teacher continues to interact with the students and goes from desk to desk encouraging and asking questions of each student. We are in awe of the enthusiasm that the children show for learning.

Finally, we head back to the Parent Room and we are greeted by other parents. We see parents working on projects for the teachers and parents putting together their school monthly newspaper. We notice that this month’s newspaper not only has suggestions for parents on helping their child at home but also has a principal’s book review column. In addition, the newspaper lists several other after-school opportunities for the children, from sports to clubs to chorus to help sessions. As one parent says, “After-school opportunities at this school are very important in this neighborhood – and the children love it.”

A parent comes over to talk to us and speaks about how great this school is and how the school offers her meaningful opportunities to engage and contribute to the school. She went on to say that during her interactions with school staff they always respond to her concerns in a professional manner, whether or not they agree or disagree with her. Also, the parent mentioned that the principal and staff take the time to call up parents with good news about their child when they do something special and how happy that makes her – and her child – feel.

As we walk out the door of My Dream School, we smile and think: YES, this is a school that I want my child to attend!