Boston Second Graders Imagine Their Dream School

by Lily Holland

This week in Boston iboston public schoolss a Week of Action to Save Our Public Schools.  For many of my fellow Boston Public Schools teachers, I know it’s felt more like a year of action with everything that’s gone on.

As part of the other actions I will take this week, I want to give voice to a group we rarely hear from: elementary school students.

I teach second grade.  Yes, second graders are adorable but they are also keenly aware of the world around them.  Their endless curiosity leads to a unique perspective on everything from the best Taylor Swift song to the worst food in the cafeteria.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been studying activism with my students.  We’ve studied famous activists from history, learned about the variety of ways people take action and have had community activists and student leaders come speak in our classroom.  After watching their families and teachers advocate for the budget and feeling inspired by the bravery of local high schoolers who led a walk out, my students decided they wanted to take action too.

Yesterday, we started by making a mural that showed what their dream school would be like if money was no object.  Let me start by saying thphoto 1at when I was seven or eight and attending a fully-funded public school in Winchester, MA, I would have dreamed of having over-the-top things like a swimming pool or something outrageous like a movie theater.  My students, attending a chronically underfunded school, instead requested things like pencils, markers, and glue sticks. photo 5 One student asked me if he was allowed to simply say that his dream school would be “shiny and new.”  Another student asked if it was too big to dream of a school where kids who felt sad could have a room with soft things and people to talk to.  Many students dreamed of a better playground and some asked for a class pet and field trips to far-away places.  As they were working, a student came over to ask me if some schools have a whole library in them rather than just one in their classroom.  When I said yes, he changed his mind from a swing set to a library.photo 2

So, please, stop telling me that our schools are fully-funded or that our budget is as big as it can get because my second graders can show you that it’s not.  I feel lucky to work in a school with a principal who fights like crazy to get my students what they deserve and knows that they deserve more than what we’re able to give them.  But, at the end of the day, without a bigger budget, it’s out of her hands.  At this point, it’s hard to not see this budget as a value judgment about the lives and futures of my students.

I think I’ve changed my mind.  When I introduced this activity, I originally said I dreamed of a school with an outdoor garden that my students and I could use to grow healthy food.  Now I think I dream of a school where seven-year-olds don’t have to just dream about the schools they deserve.

Lily Holland teaches second grade in the Boston Public Schools.

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Looking back at “A Year at Mission Hill”

“What can the larger world of American education take away from one school’s experiences?”

A Year at Mission Hill was filmed by Tom and Amy Valens (of August to June fame) during the 2011-2012 school year. Mission Hill School is a progressive public school in Boston serving about 200 students. This series, which includes 10 chapters, brings the viewer inside the school to meet teachers, students, families and community members. Most of all, it helps us to remember what is possible in public schools. Each chapter comes with a wealth of resources under the categories of “Watch”, “Read, “Listen” and “Do”.

A Year at Mission Hill was produced by Sam Chaltain with support from Ashoka, IDEA, and the NoVo Foundation.  The series website describes it this way: “Ten videos. One year. A public school trying to help children learn and grow. The national conversation we need to be having.”

Here is more on A Year at Mission Hill from the Start Empathy website:

The first chapter of the film was released on January 31, 2013 simultaneously by dozens of partner organizations – networks, youth programs, foundations, journals, non-profit organizations, and schools – all committed to the need for a new story about education to emerge. This new story shows what is possible when a committed group of educators, young people, and parents come together to build a powerful educational community rooted in engagement, justice, and collaboration. And this new story is not confined to Mission Hill. It’s happening in schools and communities around the country (and around the world).

Starting with that release in January, each new chapter was shared every two weeks until the 10th and final episode aired on June 6th. As of today, there have been over 350,000 views of the Mission Hill film and accompanying resources, including 40,000 views of the film chapters on YouTube, an estimated 100,000 additional views through public and private screenings, and 200,000 views of the amazing Year at Mission Hill Prezi (be sure to check it out if you haven’t yet!).

The film series has sparked public conversation far and wide in schools and communities, among educators and parents and policy-makers, and across social media on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. And now the film-makers Amy and Tom Valens are hard at work adapting the footage to an hour-long documentary titled Good Morning Mission Hill.

Here at DEY our connection to A Year at Mission Hill runs deep. Mission Hill School’s founding principal, Deborah Meier, is on our National Board of Advisers. The current principal, Ayla Gavins, is also on our National Board of Advisers. I am the director of DEY and also a founding teacher (and current preschool teacher) at Mission Hill School. As I watch these videos again, and then review the vast wealth of resources connected with each chapter, I am reminded how strong our movement is and I  am energized to stay in the fight to defend public education. I urge you to view these videos and share them in your community – and help change the national education conversation.