Building the Schools Our Children Deserve

Students who have choice, roles, and a voice at school are excited about attending.

Woody Allen is attributed with the saying that "showing up is 80 percent of life," and while not usually recognized as educational philosopher, it may be that he is on to something when we consider what it takes to build schools that work.

When kids are given a chance to really actively engage in how school feels (just like grown-ups and work), it's more likely that they will get up in the morning happy with the prospect of their day. And just coming to school can make all the difference in student success. Students who have choice, roles, and a voice at school are excited about attending. To do this, we need to give them responsibility and a sense of ownership in the school community.

September is Attendance Awareness Month. When children miss schoolexcused or unexcusedit disrupts their learning. When absences happen two or three times a month, students miss more than 10 percent of the school year. This chronic absenteeism typically leads to completing the school year behind grade level.

As a community, we can create schools where children want to come. We can give students a sense of ownership in the community. Students who feel responsible for their learning environment come to school ready to participateand recess is an extraordinary opportunity to do just this.

Take Eliana. Eliana was a shy, slim sixth grader at Sherman Oaks Elementary, a dual immersion K-6 School in San Jose’s Campbell Union School District. With some urging from her teacher, Eliana joined the Playworks Junior Coach Leadership Program. She began attending after-school workshops on leadership, conflict resolution, using an authoritative voice, problem-solving, and more. Soon, Eliana was running out to the playground every week to make recess a fun place to play for all students. But recess had not always been Eliana's passion.

"I didn't like to go out at recess before," she explains. "But my teacher signed me up to be a junior coach and it was a lot of fun. Now I get to play with the little kids and teach them games."

Eliana says that the junior coach program makes her enjoy school more, too. "I really like coming to school now. It's more fun now that I'm a coach. I don’t like to stay homeeven when I’m sick. I know that the little kids are looking forward to me!"

Eliana says that as much as she enjoys handing out playground equipment and helping with the kids, she is finding that being a junior coach has an even bigger role in her life.

"I just got accepted into a special program," she says. "When they asked me what I did to show leadership, the first thing I thought of was the junior coach program and Playworks. It is helping me to be a leader."

When school communities give students the opportunity to step up as drivers of their own education, like Eliana, they can make children excited about coming to school. It is our responsibility to make sure this happens by building our kids the schools they deserve.

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Elementary school children image via Shutterstock

Julian Meehan

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