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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fun Friday

Friday, June 10th, was the annual Senior Class Trip. It was an opportunity for the group, on the cusp of final exams and the threshold of departing the school after thirteen years, to get away and have fun. Nearly every 12th grader went to Six Flags New England Amusement Park for the day. Two parents, the senior class advisor, and I, each drove a vehicle to Agawam, Massachusetts and we all spent a full day at the largest amusement park in the region.

I had a great time! The weather was fine. The rides were exciting. The park was entertaining. But most of all, I really appreciated the camaraderie among the close knit group of seniors. Though the class is small, the differences among the members, however subtle, clearly span the spectrum of likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and varied interests. Yet, they all got along without a single problem. My first school year in Green Island is nearly over but I still remain surprised by the distinction between the culture of Heatly and any other school where I've worked. Like nearly everything organization, there are advantages and disadvantages regarding the size of the school. For every plus I can identify and attribute to our small school district, I can easily find a minus that is a countervailing force.

Beyond all of the factors that impact a school, objectively or subjectively, measurable or not, it really boils down to the relationships between and among the members of the school population. That's what captivated me as I observed the interactions of the seniors during their day at the park. They all seemed to enjoy the experience. At times they broke off into small groups, separating according to their interests in the different types of rides or foods. The seniors re-configured themselves throughout the day, although it never seemed that the groups were formed at the exclusion of any of their classmates. At those times, I found myself thinking back not only to other schools where I've worked, but even to my own high school experience.

Perhaps I wandered off in my mind to those days long ago when I was in high school because my graduating class recently had a reunion and people were re-connecting via social media prior to the event. However, as I reviewed current Facebook profiles and reminisced I realized that there were a number of people I graduated with that I really never knew. I didn't attend a particularly large school. I was one of approximately 175 in the graduating class. My wife, by contrast, graduated with over 600 classmates. I thought back to what might have left so many of my classmates a mystery to me. It wasn't the many years that separated today from the graduation ceremony so long ago, nor was it any particular social matter either. Instead, the lack of familiarity was more the result of 175 learners spread out in a fairly rigid academic caste system that differentiated groups by projected learning levels and separated them into respective tracks of classes which greatly restricted interactions except for lunch periods and electives - like art, music, and physical education.

The vast majority of seniors at Heatly have attended the school since they began their formal learning careers in Kindergarten. They have experienced approximately 1300 days in school together as a single class, especially during their elementary school years. The few electives that we provide only serve to separate them for brief periods of times measured in  40 minute intervals. As I expressed earlier, this can be either good or bad. That is, if they get along with each other it's great. However, if there's friction between people in the form of personality clashes the closeness of the group can produce a very awkward situation with little opportunity to escape the clutches of the conflict, and threaten to divide others into factions.

What I observed at the park was the best possible outcome of this thirteen year experience. I sincerely enjoyed the chance to watch each of the seniors laugh, have fun, and connect with each other. They were respectful and accommodating to one another despite whatever differences might otherwise separate them. There were no concerns regarding behavior or anything for that matter, and it was perhaps the most relaxed chaperoning experience I've had (since the Heatly Junior Prom - another example of the togetherness of a class of varied individuals).

The most amazing part of the day at the park? Well, I have forever been averse to riding on any rollercoaster. I've never had an interest in that kind of ride. But, at the beckon of the seniors, I went on the Bizarro Rollercoaster, reputedly one of the biggest, fastest, most electrifying roller coasters in the country. It was scary and breathtaking, but I endured the ride because the group was so enjoyable I couldn't turn down their request (really it was more of a challenge when then discovered I never rode a rollercoaster. In fact, I also went on another rollercoaster that turned upside down and went in reverse as well.

All in all, it was another interesting experience that has contributed to making my time at Heatly so memorable.

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