Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling caused when an individual holds two contradictory ideas at the same time. That’s the feeling I get when I think about education in Hall County.
I read about Georgia’s abysmal SAT scores and graduation rates. Then I look at the education my daughter is receiving as a sophomore at North Hall High School.
She is doing the same advanced mathematics that almost tanked my grade-point average as a college freshman. She is learning to be a critical reader and an effective writer. After only a year of study, she may not be eloquent in Spanish but she can make herself understood.
She is participating in a theater program that’s one of the best in the state. She’s planning on pursuing an International Baccalaureate diploma, a rigorous course of study recognized worldwide. Try as I might, I can’t dredge up a single complaint about her schooling.
Years ago I heard Dave Shumake, then principal of Gainesville High School, remark, "Teenagers will do anything for food or clothes." So true.
Lisa Martin took that concept and ran with it. She has taught special education at East Hall Middle School for 15 years. When the school adopted a uniform dress code, she saw a need to supply school-appropriate clothes for kids who didn’t have them.
She and other teachers and staff began collecting clothing donations. They sorted out the pieces that were uniform appropriate and began handing them out. That left them with a lot of clothing that was perfectly good but could not be worn to school.
Lisa is a longtime customer in my resale clothing shop, where we buy like-new items in exchange for credit in the shop. One day she approached me with the idea of bringing in the non-uniform clothes, getting store credits made out to the school and then awarding them to children who had perfect attendance or met specific goals in their classroom work.
Soon, Lisa and other EHMS staff members began showing up regularly with loads of beautiful clothes and going away with store credits written in $20 increments.
Young teens began coming in with their parents, proudly spending the credits they’d earned. One young man selected a pair of khaki pants, a polo shirt, an Atlanta Falcons Starter jacket and a beautiful aqua silk scarf. I held up the scarf. "For your girlfriend?" I teased.
"For my mom," he replied shyly. What a sweet kid.
I’m glad they’re offering rewards for perfect attendance. I once asked a longtime educator what factor had the most impact on school performance. I was surprised when she said simply, "Attendance."
It makes sense, though. After all, you can’t teach kids who aren’t there. There reaches a tipping point where, after numerous absences, catching up is nearly impossible. Usually, it goes downhill from there.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this year, for the first time, East Hall Middle School is no longer on the federal No Child Left Behind "Needs Improvement" list (see story). I’ve been so impressed by its enthusiastic faculty and staff, the students who have redeemed their certificates and the proud parents who have brought them shopping. They have all worked together and, in unison, they’ve at last grabbed the brass ring.
Cognitive dissonance. I know there’s a crisis in education in Georgia. I know funds are short and the list of problems is long.
But what I see are teachers and staff stepping up, making do, working doubly hard to give their students the education they deserve. And, in this case at least, it worked.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears every other Friday and on gainesvilletimes.com.