Ed. note: Heidi Guibord teaches Art at Island High School in Alameda. This is her first post for TEACHER VOICES. Heidi has practiced the visual arts for more than 30 years. Please check out Heidi’s website, which includes galleries of her art works. Indeed, Heidi understands art, teaching, and young people.
The common denominator for young people who attend continuation schools is that they have been unable to navigate their power successfully in other schools. The more specific reasons are complex, layered, and unique to each student. Most do not want to attend and would rather be back at their old school. They have had difficult relationships with teachers and administrators, and as I have learned, are reluctant to trust adults.
My first month teaching was rough: new location, new art teacher, new students, new system for me to learn. Former colleague Jessica Gammell once told me that in order for students to respect teachers, there must be trust. In order to build that trust, teachers need to hold high standards and be as consistent as possible. Although I was trying to get basic classroom routines set while trying to figure out school behavioral and academic norms, I needed to build better classroom culture. I also needed to get to know students better, and 55-minute periods don’t always serve that.
At the beginning of October, I started an after-school class that meets 1-2 times a week. Initially designed to serve as an option for credit recovery, the after-school art class has also served to be the place where community has blossomed. I bring in snacks, since students are hungry at the end of the school day. We work on class projects or try new materials.
Just as important, we have conversations. I have listened while my students have shared why they are at a continuation school, what they are frustrated with, and what their plans are after high school. We have discussed whether ouija boards really work, if Lil Wayne is, indeed, attractive, and what the best breakfast cereal is. We’ve also created paintings that will be shown in a holiday presentation through a local business.Those who attend come to my regular class a little more bought into the idea that I care about their education.
So far, 15 students have attended, with seven students earning credits toward graduation as a result of consistent attendance. This is a good start. In looking at the data, I have realized that six of these students are close to graduation. Starting next year, I plan to reach out more to students who are not as close and figure out what projects would get them to attend.
I need to find organizations to help donate snacks, as that seems to be a crucial component. In terms of the power I have as a teacher, I also want to listen with more intention to students and respond with support and opportunities for them to feel empowered in their high school years — and beyond.