Student for a Day

By LCHS 7/8 Principal, Dr. Jarrett Gold

When I decided to be a student for a day, I had no idea what that entailed as I have not been a middle school student in many years.  This article is meant to document my day (9/20/16) when I was a 7th grade student in Small School 1 and provide some perspective on how I felt balancing the ideas of being a student versus my role as principal.
Period 0 (6:42 - 7:38)
My day started unlike any other 7th grader would ever have, feeding my 4 month old baby at 4:30 am.  My “normal routine” is getting to school at 5:30 am and doing a morning workout before getting to my office at 6:30 am.  Today after my morning work-out I was off to 0 period PE with Mr. DiConti and a group of tired 7th graders.  A few female students befriended me and asked many questions about why I was there and what the rest of my schedule looked like.  Class started by being informed that Tuesdays were fitness days.  We started with a warm up lap around the track followed by multiple exercises that I managed my way through.  You would think I was an alien as many students looked at me like I was an outcast or different, which I guess a grown man in 7th grade PE would be.  After my less than outstanding sit and reach test, class ended and I was able to change into my shorts and a t-shirt for the rest of the day.  Upon leaving the locker room I realized that I forgot my backpack (yes my wife made me bring a backpack) and had to go back and get it.  I was told by the PE teachers that I would “receive a detention.” Not the way you want to start off as a new student.  I was thoroughly impressed with the kind nature of the students who accepted me into their group.  A few of my classmates wanted to see my schedule, and then asked if needed any help getting around campus.  After comparing schedules and realizing that some of my classes matched up with theirs, they offered to be one my seat partners in a future class.
Period 1 (8:40 - 9:28)
After an hour break from 7:40 - 8:40 due to it being late start, I went to 1st period English with Ms. V.  English has never been my strong suit and I actually had a sense of anxiety as they were working on transition words in sentences. I was partnered with a wonderful young man who I will call “A”.  “A” helped me out as we worked collaboratively on sharing who the audience was and the purpose of the sentences we had to revise.  After about 10 minutes of collaborative work, Ms. V asked for volunteers to share their revised sentences with the class. As we were working on understanding the audience and purpose of our revisions, we had the chance to compare two different student versions and then vote on which one was more engaging.  I was called on multiple times and truly felt part of the class.  While the class was very engaging, I did find it difficult to focus for the entirety of the 50 minute period. 
Period 2 (9:35 - 10:23)
Following English, I was off to Math with Ms. Charisse. The vibrant nature of the class was engaging and exciting.  She brought an energy to the class that grasped my attention.  I got a chance to see my partner from my previous class, “A”, and say “hi”.  I was sitting next to a birthday girl who was turning 13 and she seemed to be on cloud nine.  She received many smiles and hugs from her peers.  After a short warm up and some review, we delved into working with compound fractions and using the substitution method.  I felt much more comfortable in math and enjoyed the positive nature of the class.
Break (10:23 - 10:33)
Break was short and fast with little socialization for me as I was figuring out where to hang out and who to talk with.  I spent a few minutes in the office talking to adults and after hearing the bell ring I was off to third period.
Period 3 (10:40 - 11:28)
Ms. McCreary’s Social Science class was fun as we explored the Roman Empire and had a chance to use our computers to research websites that would be used for a future project.  I was grouped with 3 other students who were kind and welcomed me to the group.  As third period went on, I was already getting tired and thinking, “it is only 3rd period.”
Lunch (11:28 - 11:58)
Lunch began… I was hungry and wanted to get food but forgot to bring a lunch and had no money; I learned this was not uncommon for a 7th grader.  I had to ask one of the staff members for $5 so I could buy lunch.  I opted for the quesadilla with a side of fries and that was enough to hold me over.  After quickly eating, I had an opportunity to hang out with a few students and talk about my day, they reminded me I was only half way through and still had three classes to go.  
Period 4 (12:05 - 12:53)
As I walked into my 4th period STEAM class, I started to notice a distinct difference in my ability to focus in both myself and my peers. I have to admit, the thought of going from periods 4 through 6 with no break is a little daunting.  STEAM was a great class to have after lunch; I had a lot of fun exploring the ethics of experimentation which included ideas behind Utilitarianism and Kantianism. The class discussion was vibrant and Mr. Fulmer is one of the most engaging teachers I have been around.  The entirety of the class was amazed that he has an answer to every crazy question 7th graders threw at him.
Period 5 (1:00 - 1:48)
Science was next and I was super excited as science is one of my favorite classes.  Mr. Gilliland started the class with an introduction of compounds and doing a short experiment with a saltine cracker. Following this a sense of tiredness overtook me.  There was a little discussion in the class, but much of the class was dedicated to reading and doing some science problems.  By the end of 5th period I was drained.
Period 6 (1:55 - 2:43)
LCTV is a great class with a great teacher.  Mr. DeSimone had us in groups of 6-7 and we were storyboarding a commercial we would be shooting on Friday.  My group was inclusive, kind and engaging.  Tasks for all of us were made clear by our producer and we were getting stuff done.   This class gave me that last shot of adrenaline to get through the day.

Take Aways
One of the main takeaways from this day was that our students at LCHS 7/8 are as great as our teachers.  Our students were kind, inclusive and sweet to me not even knowing why or what I was doing there.  Many students came up to me and asked me questions and shared different things with me as if I were a student.
At break and lunch I did feel very out of place. As the principal of the school, wearing shorts and a t-shirt with a backpack on acting like a student made me unsure of myself.  I am not usually a very self conscious person, but I did find myself not really sure of where to go or what to do. During break and lunch I found myself going back to what I was comfortable with as I came to the main office a few times.  It did remind me of how it probably feels to be a new student at our school.
One story I would like to share is when I was walking to the locker room after 0 period with 4-5 students.  I asked them what what they do for the 1hour break that they have on late start days. As there were all girls I thought they would say talk or play.  The response from all of the students was “we need to go study, because we need to keep up all of our grades.”  Along with this discussion was talk about what the expectations are for colleges and what they “need to do,” to get into their top pick.  Remember these are 7th grade students, not Juniors!  I believe in holding students to a high standard, but we need to remember balance of academics with the ability of being a child is just as important. 
As the day ended I was absolutely exhausted.  I couldn't imagine leaving school, participating in some after school activities, eating dinner and doing homework.  The level of exhaustion may be due to my age, or lack of regularity in going to school, but it is hard to imagine doing this on a regular basis and keeping the balance of having fun and being a kid.  This is one thing we can never forget. Our students are mostly 12-14 years old.
This leads to one of the main reasons we applied to and were accepted to the Challenge Success program.  This is a program we will be working with that is research-based out of Stanford. Challenge Success has worked with similar schools that are high achieving and have the highest of expectations.  Challenge Success will work with us to find strategies, give suggestions, and work with all stakeholders on finding ways for our students to become more balanced as they move on in their educational careers.
Overall this experience was a great one and I look forward to doing this three more times throughout the school year in each small school.  My hope is to gain a better understanding of our student's perspective, daily demands, and rigor of the classes.  I keep coming to the same conclusion that we have great students and great teachers on this campus.  My goal is to continue to find ways to make it even better.