Monday, January 16, 2017

My Monthly Column – January 2017

Educating the Whole Student

By Xavier Botana

Happy 2017! The Portland Public Schools is beginning the year with a new Comprehensive Plan, approved by the Portland Board of Public Education Jan. 3.  Over the next four columns I will explain what the plan is, how we plan to achieve it and how our community can help. 

Our Comprehensive Plan is a road map that aligns our district’s work with our mission and vision. It tells us what we need to do to guarantee that our community has the great schools it deserves. The district’s vision is: “All learners will be fully prepared to participate and succeed in a diverse and ever-changing world.” And our mission states: “The Portland Public Schools are responsible for ensuring a challenging, relevant, and joyful education that empowers every learner to make a difference in the world. We build relationships among families, educators and the community to promote the healthy development and academic achievement of every learner.”

Over the fall, teachers, administrators, community partners and experts have worked together to establish four goals. The goals focus on Achievement, the Whole Student, Equity, and People (our employees). We also have developed key strategies for meeting those goals and refined the ways to measure and report our progress toward them.

Because January is National Mentoring Month, it’s a great time to focus on our Whole Student goal. That goal states: “All PPS students will develop the skills, habits and mindsets they need to engage in and contribute to our diverse city and ever-changing world.”

Our educators spend a great deal of time teaching about subjects ranging from math, science, reading and writing to art, music and physical health. But we also spend a lot of time and effort helping students develop other skills, habits and traits that are an important part of being successful in life.

These skills, habits and traits help students meet the standards set in the state of Maine’s Guiding Principles. Those five guidelines call for schools to teach students to become clear and effective communicators; self-directed and lifelong learners; creative and practical problem solvers; responsible and involved citizens; and integrative and informed thinkers.

To meet our Whole Student goal, we are committed to creating a shared understanding and language around social-emotional learning, and ensuring that we have programming and resources in each of our schools for getting us there. We are also committed to making sure that our students receive a balanced and well-rounded education.

One way to do that is to ensure that each student has a meaningful connection to a caring adult, someone in their universe focused on making sure the student is connected to school and on building an individual success plan for that student. That person can be a teacher, a bandleader, a coach, a school counselor or a parent – or a community mentor.

Statistics show that one in three young people are growing up without a mentor to offer real-life guidance. That’s a concern because students who have mentors are more likely to stay in school and on a path to making better life decisions. 

The Portland Public Schools has strong mentoring programs in place for many students, but we can always use more help. Please consider volunteering. Mentoring opportunities include our Multilingual & Multicultural Center’s Make It Happen! program and the Foster Grandparents program. There are many outstanding community organizations that also provide adult mentoring for students such as the Boys & Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

While mentoring is one way that you can help, there are other opportunities to make a difference in our students’ lives. Those ways include accompanying students to school in our Walking School Bus program, volunteering to read to students or working with the many partner organizations that support our students. Each of our schools has a community coordinator to help build these relationships.  Learn more by contacting your local school or at this link: https://www.portlandschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=1094237&pageId=7033442

January also is a month to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The national holiday commemorating his birth is Jan. 16 this year. It’s a time to remember Dr. King’s life and legacy and to engage in service to our community.