Students now more than ever need to understand relevancy

CHARLOTTE – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has been collecting feedback from the community that will lead to district-wide goals and guardrails for the next five years.

School board member Melissa Easley led members of the Municipal Education Advisory Committee on Aug. 17 through an exercise to determine what skills CMS students should have by the time they finish elementary, middle and high school levels. CMS formed this committee to keep the Mecklenburg County towns engaged when their leaders explored the idea of forming charter schools. Every town has a rep on the committee. 

“We have several questions we have asked several groups over the past month,” Easley told the committee. “We have been all over the county – up north, down south, east, west – we’ve done several of these and I wanted to make sure we captured our town leaders, our local leaders.”

Easley asked the small group what students should be able to know by the time they leave fifth grade. 

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell initially felt she was unqualified to give feedback but Easley talked about others mentioning topics like financial or computer literacy. 

“Reading is the foundation of everything,” Rodriguez-McDowell said. “I feel like that is an obvious statement but you can’t do all the other things if you can’t read. Reading and comprehending seems to me the most important.”

Roriguez-McDowell said she felt financial literacy at the elementary school level is tough for students to retain. 

“Until you’re ready to hear it, sometimes when you’re in school and you’re being taught things that you’re not ready to hear yet, it just kind of flies over your head and you just sit there and you are bored. I think you have to be sensitive to how children are different and how some kids are ready to hear some things and other kids are not ready to take those things in.”

Schools need relevance

The last statement from Rodriguez-McDowell is in the ballpark of what I believe schools need to do. Schools need daily affirmations for why students are there (or should be there). Schools also need to explain why the day-to-day work is relevant and how it will help affect their lives. 

I’m not an educator. I’m not a parent. But I have been a bored child staring at the clock for 90 minutes wondering what William Shakespeare and the phases of mitosis have to do with me and my problems. 

Too many children don’t understand how school can change the trajectory of their lives. Some have stopped showing up. 

I think teachers should start every class with a statement that explains how the material they’re teaching is relevant. And if it’s not relevant, be honest. Tell them, “the state requires that every student in North Carolina must understand blah blah blah.” 

At the end of class, reiterate the key points you want students to gain from that instruction and drop a hint about what could possibly come up in a local or standardized test. The next day, connect the previous day’s points to what you’ll be talking about today.

I don’t know about you, but I’m more engaged and focused going into a business meeting when I have some idea of what we’ll be talking about. And I feel meetings are far more productive when there is an itinerary. Maybe instruction should adapt this approach if it isn’t already. 

Another point to consider is that you have influential people on social media, such as marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk, sharing his experiences of overcoming the odds despite being a bad student. Vaynerchuk, who often goes viral, says the education system in America sucks. 

Maybe schools should invite regular folks from the community who use math, science or history in their careers to help drill down on relevancy. 

Community Colleges nail relevance

One of the things I admire most about Central Piedmont, South Piedmont, Rowan-Cabarrus and Mitchell community colleges is how responsive these institutions are to their stakeholders. 

When Dole Food owner David Murdock announced nearly 20 years ago his intent to build a billion-dollar health research campus in Kannapolis, Rowan-Cabarrus started cranking out biotech-oriented courses and pathways to prepare the local workforce for lab work.

You also see this sort of reaction from community colleges with job announcements on a smaller scale. They tailor programs around the needs of local business and industry. And they connect students, whether they are fresh out of high school or veterans in between careers, to these opportunities.

Students are usually very motivated to do well because it’s very clear what’s at stake – the training, the certificate, the transfer hours. There’s not much time to fool around. 

Enrollment at community colleges tends to increase when the economy worsens. People are retooling so they can upgrade their skills, their hireability and their financial stability. 

Maybe schools need to look at the problems of our communities and tailor the instruction to solve fundamental problems – without getting into politics. For example, there are a lot of children and adults that believe they are the main characters of this television show, movie or video game while the rest of us are non-playable characters. They don’t realize how their tantrums at restaurants, stores, airports or classrooms affect everyone else around them. They don’t realize that running out of a store with an arm full of stolen inventory can damage communities. 

That’s why I believe all students heading into middle school should not only know how to read, write and do basic math but they should also have the self-awareness to know how their actions and behaviors affect others. The child constantly talking in class may not realize that his talking may be preventing others from listening. Instead, he may just think the teacher is too uptight. 

By the end of middle school, students need to realize that social media is a highly filtered, edited (and maybe moderated) slice of reality. This is probably a good age to discuss coping skills when you face rejection, uncertainty or the realization that you’re not going to get your way. Maybe we should stream these lessons to the public, perhaps on airplanes or on kiosks for those waiting in lines to talk to a customer service rep. 

By high school, they need to be focused on developing skills to thrive in adulthood – how to find a job, how to keep a job  and how to work with other people. My favorite courses in high school were the career-technical classes because they were based on practical skills.

That’s my two cents. I’m curious to hear ideas from readers or educators. 

The Charlotte Weekly