For the past three years, my job has been to assist 8th graders in a charter school apply to ‘college prep’ high schools in and around Philadelphia. We try to ensure that they go on to charter, magnet, parochial, or independent schools. The process in Philadelphia, as in most urban areas, is twisted and backwards and designed to have families and students fail every step of the way. The schools we help them apply to are competitive, and so we do our best to instill in them how important their 7th and 8th grade years are for their entire futures. While I find fault with so much of the educational system, (I’m not going to go into that rant here) the message we try to convey to students is a universal one – BE KIND. BE A GOOD PERSON. That is MORE important than acing all tests and getting honors.
Today, in anticipation of me leaving, I met with the entire 7th grade class as they begin to embark on the high school application process journey. I wrote the following poem for the first class I worked with. I found it again recently as I was sorting through files, and it felt fitting to end with it, too.
I want to share a story about a boy named Billy
He spent all his time in class goofing off, acting silly
He knew all the answers when he put his mind to it
But instead of working hard he, well, he blew it
He kept his friends laughing, talked back when redirected
And although his class chuckled, they never seemed to be corrected
Because they knew the importance of having fun at the right time
And took school seriously – hard work is no crime
They studied, participated in discussions, went on trips, got rewards
They kept telling him – Billy, you can do the same, get all the benefits good behavior affords!
His teachers kept telling him he could be the best
If only he listened more in class, and studied for tests
But he didn’t pay any mind, kept thinking he was so cool
What he didn’t realize was, being really cool, meant doing well in school
When it came to 8th grade, his high school options were slim
If only he had chosen a PATH more like his friend Jim
Who was off to shadow days at private schools like William Penn Charter
He knew he could have done it, why hadn’t he tried harder?
This is a cautionary tale of a year gone wrong
Don’t let this be you – you’re way too strong
7th grade is an important year so don’t be a fool
Your grades, attendance, behavior, all decide your future school
Your teachers, administrators and families know you can do it
So this it the time, Young Scholars, to put your minds to it
You know what you must do
(act right, work hard, stay focused)
To show us, show your families – most importantly show YOU
That you are a leader, a scholar, a star
That you have big things ahead of you – that you can go far
I’m telling you, each and every one of you
You can do it, please believe me, I know it’s true!
Now is the time to focus, next year is too late
Work hard now, and you, too, can be great!
Here’s to another day of creativity…