All the many times I’ve driven by Albemarle, it’s never looked big enough to have the largest student body of the county. At 1900 students, AHS is nearly twice as big as Monticello and Western Albemarle High Schools. This body of students include those enrolled in MESA, the Math, Engineering and Science Academy, a school within a school, which prepares students for a college major within the Engineering disciplines.
Albemarle is filled to the gills with students and staff. Principal Thomas showed me former closets that are now remodeled into 2 teacher office spaces. Rarely do teachers have their own room; the vast majority of rooms are in use every period of the day.
Two large rooms on our tour were in the process of being repurposed for a new pilot program for 9th graders who are below grade level. 65 students have been identified to participate. They will meet each day for several periods with a team of teachers who will focus on the areas of greatest need. This will allow students to receive extra concentrated time on the subjects where they struggle the most, but not spend excess remediation time in areas where they are relatively strong. This approach will hopefully allow students to develop greater skills, but will definitely free up their schedule to be able to participate in electives. So much of the time students who are below grade level in core subjects have all periods devoted to language arts and math, and therefore cannot have success or develop skills in less “critical” areas. When asked, Principal Thomas said that one of his major goals was to continue to increase the achievement levels of low income and ethnic minority students, some of whom are English Language Learners. This new program could be a step in solving this widespread problem.
Having taught Albemarle students at both ends of the economic and achievement spectrum– for instance, a student who lived off Garth Road, and attended MESA and later Stanford, and a student who lived in public housing and spent his first year out of high school in jail– I am passionate that each child should achieve his full potential and have as many options as possible. Both of these young men are warm, intelligent, kind, funny gentlemen. How do we do better? How do we celebrate the accomplishments and realized potential of one young man, while doing a better itemization of real costs of our failure to better nurture another’s lost potential. To be clear, the costs are real. We pay to house the prisoners at the regional jail. We’ve lost out on the taxes on his potential higher income. We may have lost out on what this young man could have contributed with his ideas and service– but I still have hope that this young man can find his footing in a world that has been unkind to him.
The path that this young man is on is not only a school problem, it’s our community’s problem. How can all of our interventions– schools, non-profits, social services, housing, counseling, etc– be more effective? The metric that I care about is not graduation rates; the metric I care about is the quality of life for all of the families in our communities. It’s not the responsibility of one teacher, one principal, or one school board member; it’s OUR responsibility.