It's been one week since I said good-bye to the staff and students of Brookfield Elementary School. It's been one week since I started as a science teacher and department head at Camden's Promise Middle School, which is a part of Camden's Charter School Network. I know that nothing will ever be able to replace the experiences, staff, and students of my previous school and they will always hold a special place in my heart. With that being said, I could not be happier with my decision to move to the Camden's Charter School Network!
If I had to sum up my new school organization in one word, it would be progressive. I have spoken with a lot of colleagues in my professional learning network about our mission and practices. The most popular word that these educational professionals use to describe my current situation is progressive. If you have followed my educational career, you know that I have been in charter schools, regular public schools, and private schools, but nothing seemingly compares to this. Ready to learn why?
- Useful, well-paced, & timely PD - All new staff members started last Monday. We learned about our mission, the plan for achieving the mission, the history of the program, and what makes us unique. We also had ample time to learn about the different tech initiatives and all the necessary job requirements in a way that was not rushed. We received instruction in all the specifics before the returning staff came on Thursday. Our kids return on 8/29, which means 10 days of PD for new staff and 7 days for returning staff. How many schools offer staff those kind of developmental opportunities? None that I have ever been a part of...
- Experienced veteran staff - I have worked in charter schools before and have always seen a high amount of staff turnover. There are a lot of factors that contributed to this issue, but Camden's Charter School Network boasts a significant part of their staff that have been there for years. When I met with returning staff, it was immediately clear why this is a reality for our schools. Staff believes in the mission and want to help change the lives of our students. Did I mention that there are many teachers and staff who were once students in our schools? Talk about enacting generational change and reinforcing a mission!
- Progressive goals - On our first day of full staff professional development, we talked a lot about our mission and goals as well as our focus for this upcoming school year, trauma-based education. To begin this discussion, all staff gathered in our high school gym to watch the film Paper Tigers. The movie focuses on the lives of several students in an alternative high school setting, their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and what the school staff did to work with them. We followed the movie up on Friday with round-table discussions with our grade-level staff, a development session about working with students with traumatic experiences, and a panel conversation with former students, parents, and staff. This really set the tone for the school year by ensuring that all staff were aware of what our goals are and what we are up against.
True innovation - We pride ourselves on being innovative in what we do for the students of Camden and it is evident in everything that we do. First, we are a 1:1 Chromebook school for grades 6-12. The best part about this is that these students get to take their devices home! How awesome is that?! There is 1:1 technology throughout the K-12 schools as well, with various iPad and Chromebook carts. Second, we are moving our schools in a STEAM direction at all grade levels. In my experiences, this is unprecedented! We have a partnership with Adventure Aquarium that allows our students to develop and create underwater robotics. I am extremely excited to work within this program and all staff will actually be visiting the aquarium this week to learn more about how this magnet partnership is developing. Our schools also have two swimming pools that we are planning on using to teach all students how to swim. It is no secret that students in urban areas are not often given that opportunity and we want to use our facilities to help teach necessary life-saving skills to our population.
Can you see why I am so excited yet? I have spoken with many educators last week, both new and returning staff, and I can see the same thing in all of them. There is a genuine desire to help an underrepresented group of students in a city that has been largely overlooked by public education. Camden's Charter School Network has been at this since 1998 and they have found new and innovative ways to support their children ever since.
I became an educator for one reason. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of students in the same way that my teachers did for me when I was a student. Kids have always come first for me and I am ecstatic to see this reflected in the vision and mission of my new school. I know that it will not always be easy, but I am ready for the challenge. I am ready to help be the change for our students. I am ready to be a part of a team that is doing amazing things for the students of Camden. I cannot wait to meet our kids and get this school year going!