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I have my students write a blog every couple of weeks. They respond to a prompt with at least 100 words and also reply to another person’s blog after they’re posted. Their last blog of the year was to reflect on the positive aspects of going to school at NRHEG and their best memories of the last year.

There were a few ideas that resonated through many blogs. One of the most prevalent themes was that of attending a small school. NRHEG averages grade sizes in the 70s, so many students wrote about not just knowing everyone in their class, but also many students in other classes. You can see friendships blossom across grades as they get to the secondary building and have more interaction outside their specific classrooms.

Part of the small town aspect that students wrote about involved teachers knowing them better and people in the community being aware of who they are based on activities at school and in the paper. In a school our size, you don’t just become another face in the crowd unless you try really hard to not be noticed.

This leads to another area that many students included in their blogs, sports. The feeling was that the opportunities to participate in sports at NRHEG were far greater than at large schools. If you want to play a sport, you get to be part of the team, unlike at big schools that have tryouts. A number of kids commented that they figure they wouldn’t even be part of a sports team in Albert Lea or Owatonna. Here, they might not be elite athletes, but they still get to be athletes.

I was pleased to see many references to teachers and staff being willing to help and work with the students to gain a level of understanding. This was seen both by students who excel in school and those who face a daily struggle to keep up with what’s happening in class. Just walk the hallways here either before or after school and you’re guaranteed to see students in many classrooms asking questions and receiving guidance. You might even see that “Ah-ha!” moment when the student understands and leaves the classroom with a smile on his or her face.

We had a conversation a few years back when we added language to our teaching contract regarding our work hours and making them a flexible eight hours. Teachers can arrive between certain times and leave eight hours later instead of a rigid 8-4 time. Part of the concern expressed to us with that was if teachers would just leave because their eight hours were up, even if there were students seeking help. That concern was quickly put to rest when administration observed just what I was talking about in the previous paragraph. Teachers aren’t just punching a time clock and, barring an appointment or other previous commitment, will stay and help if the student is willing to put that time in as well.

I see kids attending the weekly after-school study halls sponsored by our ambassadors and even more checking in with special ed staff every morning to make sure they’re on track. Some students commented on those opportunities to help them on a tough trek. There are more and more special needs students every year, and the staff in that area is easily the group that puts in the most time to get the most out of their students.

Some students commented about our Panther Pride program that has been in place for a few years. They enjoyed the recognition of positive things students and staff do. Assemblies we have for this purpose were frequently mentioned as a good experience. The kids enjoy seeing other students perform and get recognized and really like the occasional teacher embarrassment, er, performance, especially around Homecoming.

The school spirit that is shown in support of not just athletic programs, but other extracurricular activities was recognized in the blogs. Kids like that you don’t just have to be an athlete to be noticed. Drama, music, and academic accomplishments are recognized too. There’s something for everyone if they seek it out. If a student wants to be involved in something, there’s likely an organization for each of them.

Admittedly, some students struggled to come up with some positives; a few said it had been a tough year for various reasons. I encouraged them to find something good amidst the negatives, and when they thought about it for a while, they came up with something… which then led to something else, and so on.

Panther Pride is sometimes more difficult at a secondary level; kids aren’t as wide-eyed anymore, and those teenage years can be a strain at times. Still, I was happy to see so many of the positive responses; they help inspire me to work out of difficult times and be more positive myself. The school year’s about done, but I’m positive we’ll make it to the end!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is blet, which means to overripen to the point of rotting, as in, “Rather than throwing away the old bananas, she learned to blet them just right in order to make banana bread.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!


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