Challenge Success:Homework, Boosterfest, and the Scramble for Africa
By LCHS Principal, Ian McFeat
“The reason I am on this committee,” stated a student on the Challenge Success Steering Committee, “is to bring back the joy of learning. I hope that somehow this work can help other students see how amazing it is to learn new ideas. I fear too many of my friends have no love for learning.”
I wait for moments like this and search for them around school. And, the moments seem to arrive in earnest when I tune in. This year, part of my own Challenge Success path has been to reexamine my practices as a Principal. This year, my 6th as Principal, has required a shift. I spend fully 45% more of my time in classes this year than in previous years. Success for me, at least in the past, was measured by our test scores on the SBAC and AP exams. Or, success was measured by the number of AP National Merit Scholars, or even our designation as a National Blue Ribbon Award School. This year, I measure my success by the brilliance I encounter with your students. The more I am in classes, the more I am able to see the texture and creativity they offer us each day.
As I write this, I am observing freshman students play a game of monopoly in Mr. Mispagel’s classroom. Understand that the game has been changed. The game is actually titled, Imperialism Monopoly: the Scramble for Africa. Students rotate their game pieces around board; a student, “Katie,” represents Belgium, lands on the “Gold Coast” square and colonizes it. Another student protests and declares war. The game is brutal, and students learn quickly that the “Scramble for Africa” was devastating for the groups of people who came under colonial rule.
Mr. Mispagel could have lectured about this to his Honors Social Science students, and in fact, he did the previous day. Yet, he also wanted students to grapple with the history, to try on the the roles of 1st world nations, to examine the causes of political strife and underdevelopment. As I waited for another roll of the dice as the country of Germany rolled past the annexation square and landed on the mercantilist square. An index card, not unlike a monopoly “chance” card, made the other countries pay for the transportation of their raw materials out of Africa. Germany earned 500 dollars, which brought France to the brink of bankruptcy. “These policies are bankrupting my country,” another student answered. “I’m winning,” quipped Great Britain.
As part of our Challenge Success work we have met in committees to review school policies and procedures, especially around how we do “homework.” The goal of the Homework Committee is to give recommendations to the Governing Board that can help guide a more holistic and goal-oriented procedures. Ultimately, the committee will look at best practice research, make sense of the research, and recommend possible foundational principles we might agree to as a faculty.
I do not need to tell you, but you can guess that the work is slow, deliberate, and intentional. At our last meeting students and teachers discussed the purpose of homework, their own experiences, and how to make this work meaningful for LCHS. One of the students in our group shared how difficult it was to finish homework when last minute changes are made from teachers. Another student shared that they are on social media and watching television and texting with friends while finishing homework. It was a process she admitted made it, “difficult to focus and get done in less than 3 hours.” Still another group member brought up the idea of calibrating how long it takes students to finish homework in class, and reviewing the data aggregated by department. This baseline data, it was offered, could help us to make sense of what we do as a school community with the homework we assign. Again, the work will take time, so stay tuned.
Challenge Success can also be found in our support organizations. Recently, and thanks to our Boosters, we had one of the most fruitful fundraising events in recent history. Boosterfest, the annual event led by our Boosters under the direction of current President, Chris Clarkson, allowed us to provide resources for the support of a sound and recording studio. This upgrade will have a far-reaching impact on our student body for years to come, providing them with resources to support audio recordings for all of our arts programs. Additionally, our Booster community also raised capital for over 50 programs on campus.
When I spoke with a few Boosters towards the end of the evening, one member could not hide his joy. “We had such a great night for the school,” he said while hugging those around him. Challenge Success can be found in this work as well; a real and concerted effort to support innovation and ingenuity on campus so that students can find a sense of belonging.
The name Challenge Success implies that our collective understanding of what it means to be successful needs redefinition. For students used to learning didactically, this might take the form of simulation activities that are highly engaging and thought-provoking. For our support organizations like Boosters, it is challenging the lack of state funding we receive with parent-led efforts to augment program offerings. For our teachers and students, it means we are examining the purpose of homework and how this impacts student achievement. I even find myself questioning my own schema on a regular basis. My own work, what I value, has gone through a complete transformation. Success for me used to be traditionally defined, now it is about “Being Present” in classes and around campus. How are you redefining success for your student? And, how can we help with that?