Saturday, October 15, 2011

(3) School Buildings New or Old..........Education Still Boils Down to Teachers, Students, & Parents


Gallia Academy High School

Note:   In 2005 the schools of the two school districts of Gallia County were antiquated.  In an unprecedented move the State of Ohio agreed to finance the major part of building three new high schools, an elementary school, and remodeling of others all at the same time if the voters would approve a levy rejected several times previously.  The new schools were dedicated within days of each other in August 2009.  The euphoria after the successful levy passage on the night of the election is described in the second article in this blog:  "A Grand Slam For Kids".
       My concern remains that new school facilities in Gallia County, Ohio may not be utilized well, especially when they are taken for granted and teachers fall back into the old ways of doing things.  Thus this article is still appropriate not only for Gallia County in southeastern Ohio, but to all school districts throughout the nation, particularly those who have recently renovated, bought new equipment and technology, or constructed new facilities.

(Published in the Gallipolis Daily Tribune November 18, 2009)
By Paul R. Sebastian, Ph.D.

       More than two months have passed since the historical dedication of the three new high schools of Gallia County; the dust has settled; and their use has become routine. It's already time for the very important parents' visitation to meet our children's teachers and discover ways we can both work together and be more effective in educating our kids. Good parent-teacher collaboration are indispensable to good education. So now would be a good time for teachers, parents, and students to reflect on this remarkable achievement of our community as construction and remodeling continues on other schools.

        Renewed congratulations to the community of Gallipolis and Gallia County! Finally, the dream is reality! WE GOT A RED DOT! Their citizens vividly demonstrated the power of many people working together for the common good of all in the two campaigns to pass the bond issue in November 2005: “A Red Dot for Kids” in the city school district and “Quality Schools for Quality Kids” in the county school district.

        After decades of failed attempts and frustration, Gallia County now, has three new state of the art high schools.......South Gallia, River Valley, and Gallia Academy with computers and projectors in every classroom, the latest teaching aids, modern multi-purpose science labs and the equipment to go along with them. In addition, the new Rio Grande and Green elementary school are already under construction and other schools are being renovated. All of this is unprecedented in such a short time.......bordering on the miraculous! Along with continuous improvement they will probably serve several generations including our children and our great grandchildren through the end of the 21st Century. What a legacy we are leaving!

       Let's be grateful for the sacrifice of the taxpayers of the city, county, and the state of Ohio. In addition, the private sector demonstrated a remarkable spirit of social responsibility in giving back to the community. For example, Holzer Clinic and Holzer Medical Center contributed $1,000,000 to equip the science labs. The late Bob Eastman of Foodland donated another $1,000,000 for a new athletic stadium. Let us appreciate the many hours of planning and follow-up by the architects, teachers, and administration under the leadership of the principals and the two superintendents, Jack Payton and Charla Evans.

       Nor can we forget the construction contractors and subcontractors, their managers, their very skilled technicians and other workers, who by the sweat of their brows, did the earth moving, maintenance of equipment, the bricks and mortar, the plumbing, pipefitting, welding, electrical work, carpentry, the heating and cooling, landscaping, etc. in the cold of winter and the heat of summer over a three year period.

       So many people contributed directly and indirectly from dream to reality. It is not far fetched to even include the anonymous thousands of workers involved in the mining of the raw materials; the production of cement, bricks, blocks, and insulation; the manufacturing of the necessary equipment, machinery, and parts before construction can even start. This is all about developing the future products of our schools --prepared workers, technicians, managers, and professionals-- who will make similar contributions and more in the future. Every single person is most valuable and has a very important part in the big picture. Thus the community depends upon every one of its citizens.

        We have a great moral debt to repay all of these people for the sacrifices they have made. That is to utilize these expensive new facilities to the maximum and thus give them the greatest possible return on their investment of time, talent, and treasure. We must place a much greater value upon education. The expected return is the best possible education for our kids, who must now step up and study harder than ever to reap the economic benefits for themselves, their families, and their community.
       Having schools as good as the big city suburban schools is now possible if we set that as a ten year goal with a program of continuous improvement as teachers, students, and parents, all step up to get better each day during the school year and during summer vacation as well. This will help to attract new industry to Gallia County. Our graduates will do better on the ACT and SAT tests, thus increasing their chances for scholarships at the best colleges. The ultimate return is better prepared kids who, as future leaders and citizens, will be well equipped to develop, strengthen, and improve our families, our community and our country. Furthermore, with a stronger foundation to build on, the University of Rio Grande will be better able to raise standards, cover more material, and achieve true excellence. We cannot let them down.....administrators and teachers, students and parents, all of us working together, increasing our efforts to make our kids the very best.

       How can we obtain the best return on our investment in the new schools.....a lot of sacrifice on the part of the taxpayers of Ohio and Gallia County plus a great community effort with so many people involved from start to finish? The only way is continuous improvement and a renewed dedication and enthusiasm on the part of each administrator, teacher, parent, and student. While aspiring to improve student achievement, teachers and parents (also educators really) working together must focus on two all-encompassing very fundamental points: 1) the development of the student's thought processes and 2) the formation of character and other qualities and values so important to ethical professional success and good citizenship.

        Develop the Student's Higher Order Thought Processes in All Grades. Beginning at a very young age with the simple, we must teach our students how to think clearly, reason logically, arrive at their own conclusions through their own observations, do elementary research, discover principles, stimulate their creative powers, resolve problems, read rapidly with comprehension, and to effectively communicate their ideas orally and written.

        When one has developed his/her thought processes and is comfortable with thinking conceptually, s/he can learn independently without any teacher, a very important goal of education. This development of higher order thinking demands that the students have sufficient stimulating practice both at home and school in writing, math, and other quantitative courses. Obviously, the only way to learn to write is to write and write some more. Similarly, one only learns problem solving, --especially situational or “story” problems-- through practice and more practice.

        The problems that students face in their careers will be much different than the examples in class. Thus they must be able to apply principles learned in class to new, strange, and different situations. Homework and at least some exam questions should challenge students in that way. We don't need memorizers who regurgitate on exams what was dictated in class. America needs thinkers, problem solvers, and innovators who can solve complex problems and create new and better quality products, solutions to problems, find more efficient operations at a lower cost and price. That's what employers want; that's what Gallia and the surrounding counties need to reach their great potential.

        Teachers cannot do it alone. Even more important is to instill in the student a love for learning and books that will continue until the grave. That starts in the home. Parents can do so much to educate their kids in their own little home-schools by example and word, starting when they are toddlers with toys and activities that stimulate their physical and intellectual development. Parents can do almost as much as the teachers......foster intellectual discussions in the family car and at dinner according to the developmental level of the kids; take the family to museums and historical sites; engage in physical activities as hiking; encourage classical music and learning a musical instrument; reward and even insist that their kids read a book before being allowed to play a video game. And of course learning occurs through educational television, mind stimulating games as chess, activities, vacations, home made science experiments, etc.

        Teachers URGENTLY need the help of the parents. We cannot shove our educational responsibilities on the teachers. That's a formula for failure. The teachers only have the kids for six or seven hours a day, Monday through Friday, August to May. We parents have them one on one (the best teaching relationship) the rest of the time. What an awesome responsibility!!!

        There are opportunities to teach at home when one of the kids has trouble with his homework or asks a question. Then there's teaching the kids of both genders how to cook, clean, fix order, make repairs, etc. There's a lot of science in the kitchen, in the basement shop, and in the garden. And let's not forget to encourage the kids to teach each other at home, outside, and at school.......older to younger, more gifted to less gifted. Every kid is gifted in something be it athletics, mechanics, or academics, which may be language arts, social sciences, math, or science.

        Then we cannot forget our community resources.......the Bossard Library; the Ariel (music and theater); the French Art Colony (music and art); the Pine Street Museum; the Historical Society; Our House Tavern; Plant Trips; Holzer Health Fairs; Ft. Randolph in Point Pleasant; Raccoon Creek Park; the Bob Evans Farm Museum & Festival; the Rio Grande Community College Summer Scholars Program, museum, and other opportunities there (; the Scouts; 4-H Clubs; church youth activities; sports leagues; etc. There are so many opportunities to learn; so many dedicated people teaching our kids; and all so enriching. Parents, let's take advantage of them for our kids. The schools alone aren't enough.

        Form a Mentality Conducive to Progress and Economic Development. The most important of all is to form our students as good citizens and people of virtue for God and Country. That is to form them with basic honesty (integrity), individual responsibility, reliability, self-discipline, perseverance, interpersonal cooperation, social awareness, and a spirit of sacrifice, hard work, and dedication to God, Country, community, family, and neighbor.

        I have seen from teaching in the U.S., Peru, and Poland as well as in my travels around the world how a mentality of greed, corruption, dishonesty, exploitation, and laziness has its repercussions in all parts of the economy.....low productivity, high costs, high prices, more crime, social chaos, and more economic crises. Without God having to raise His hand, man punishes himself. For example, greed is the source of our national financial meltdown. Corrupt politicians and business people started with petty cheating on exams and assignments. Then it's so much easier to fall into bigger temptations. If one is accustomed to being honest in little things, s/he will never fall into big time corruption.

        Now the great task is to effectively utilize our new state of the art schools, science labs, teaching aids, computers, and equipment. They are wonderful aids in the preparation of our students for their future roles in society. Nevertheless, they alone are grossly insufficient. They are by no means a cure-all for our problems in education. The novelty may be wearing off and the danger is that we will slide back into the old laid back ways of teaching, studying, and doing things.....a very poor return on our investment and a waste of our money and resources. We must effectively utilize these new blessings.

       We may have the best equipment and facilities, but it still boils down to enthusiastic, dedicated, demanding, and ever improving teachers; effective administrators; students willing to work and study hard; and parents that reinforce, back up, and encourage demanding teachers that stretch the students to excellence while insisting that their children study. In fact, excellent teachers, students, and parents can still accomplish their mission without these facilities as in some less prosperous countries, although so much more difficult. Therefore, these crucial ingredients are indispensable to realize the expected returns on this investment of millions of dollars.....not to mention the blood, sweat, and tears of so many people who made this dream a reality. Teachers, students, and parents.......Please.......don't let them down. Everyone is counting on you. The future of our community and our country is in your hands.

(Originally Published in the Gallipolis Daily Tribune November 2005)
By Paul R. Sebastian

       At the electrifying election night gathering in a packed Gallia Academy auditorium, a red dot blinked on a map of southeastern Ohio, indicating victory to a standing ovation as red dot balloons popped like fire crackers. With youthful exuberance, kids with red dot tattoos on their faces cheered: “We got a red dot” with the tune, “Celebration” in the background, realizing that it indeed was a historical day. The levy for new schools passed in both the city and county…..a grand slam for Gallia County.

       It was a landslide for the City Schools “Red Dot for Kids” (71% of the vote) and a clear majority for the County District “Quality Schools for Quality Kids” (55%). It was a great victory for the Community that worked so hard in a campaign that attracted the greatest local interest and best voter turnout in years at 55%.
All parts of the community pulled together. Businesses, in a demonstration of social responsibility, provided the funding ($60,000 for the city campaign with Holzer providing half) while school administrators, teachers, parents, and the kids themselves did the leg work. The campaign was beautifully organized down to the precinct level.....billboards, yard signs, posters, newspaper ads, pamphlets, auto decals, buttons, t-shirts, rallies, information meetings, a display in the library, newspaper ads, and even a website. Precinct captains and their volunteers got out the vote, making telephone calls through election day
       The Daily Tribune gave unprecedented support for the campaign with frequent front page coverage and acceptance of some 100 articles and letters from the community on the editorial page. Teachers, parents, and other citizens wrote on both sides of the issue. Even many of the kids themselves were able to put their writing skills into practice and learned a lesson in democratic civic participation as little citizens. One day the paper had two full pages of letters and articles. I’ve lived all over the world and never saw anything like it.
       May the momentum of this community spirit and civic pride carry over into other activities, future campaigns, elections, projects, etc. The Community showed their willingness to sacrifice their resources for our kids. Those who own considerable land and property will have to bear more than their share of the tax burden. To them, we owe special gratitude, not to mention the out of county taxpayers of the State of Ohio, who will not benefit directly.
       The kids can repay the sacrifices of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of property owners and other taxpayers by studying hard and making their investment pay off for the Community. May the teachers and administrators repay the sacrifices by renewed dedication and enthusiasm. May the Community and especially the parents continue their involvement in education and support the teachers, particularly those who stretch the students by demanding their maximum effort and excellence. Teachers cannot do it alone, especially in regard to discipline and motivation to study hard. Let’s put a greater value upon education now more than ever.

       Finally, may we echo the beautiful prayer of thanksgiving given by Brent Saunders, the Assistant Principal of Gallia Academy, at the close of the victory celebration. We will certainly need divine guidance in spending the millions of dollars wisely with effective design and planning.

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