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“Inspiring Hope” – A Look Inside Hope High School

Jill writes a monthly education for East Side Monthly. May’s ESM contains “Inspiring Hope,” a continuation of the “At School Today” column she has been writing for ESM. For this piece, which is in the online and print editions on page 44, she spent a morning at Hope High School asking questions about what classes and programs are engaging Hope students and connecting them to success. Here it is online, and she has let me reprint the piece below (which differs very slightly from the edited version in print).

There’s been a lot said about Hope recently, especially since RIDE declared at the end of March that Hope Information Technology was a failing school in need of intervention (interestingly, the announcement of that unfortunate, and I think undeserved, designation happened the day before I visited the school for my ESM story). A few highlights of the Hope High School reporting and opinionating:

  • At Hope High, Recent Gains Now Lost,” a bleak but honest assessment of the situation at Hope now in the ProJo
  • A write up from WRNI on Hope teacher’s reaction to the plan, which includes appealing RIDE’s decision and/or combining Hope Arts and Hope IT to form one un-failing school (the ProJo also covered this development here)
  • Commentary from Warren Simmons of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform on the ups and downs of Hope with an eye toward describing the reasons why changes made to improve academics at the school have not created meaningful or lasting improvement.

I feel that I have far more to learn about my neighborhood’s only public high school before I embark on any significant opinionating of my own. I am exceedingly grateful for the generosity of Hope’s educators, administrators and students as I have begun to get to know the school. For this story and for a feature that’s going to appear in the June edition of East Side Monthly, they have greeted me warmly and opened their school to me. There’s a deep well of good practice alive at Hope, and much of that emerges in the stellar programs that I wrote about. These programs – JROTC, theater, and the arts program – are not making the difference academically or otherwise for all kids at Hope. Nevertheless, even if they don’t represent what is typical, they very much represent what is possible, and I believe that if Hope’s educators and students had a reasonable amount of autonomy balanced with accountability, as they have had from time to time in the past though not long enough and not with the right conditions (as Dr. Simmons described), they could achieve amazing results.

With no further ado, here’s the May ESM “At School Today” piece on my day at Hope High School:

As a curious neighbor, possible prospective parent, and journalist, I recently visited Hope High School. I wanted to get inside Hope to appreciate some the good things that I believed must be happening for students within Hope Arts and Hope Information Technology, the school’s two learning communities. Anyone with a passing awareness of local public education knows that a collective of Hope students have demonstrated fierce loyalty to the school as they attempted to preserve the Hope’s block schedule and accompanying adequate teacher common planning time, an endeavor that has met with frustration (and which is itself a powerful story, but not the story I am telling here).  As that situation unfolded, my present curiosity focused not only on teaching and learning as demonstrated (or not) by NECAP scores but on what else was happening inside Hope.

The morning I set aside to spend at Hope started in Laura Maxwell’s Advanced Placement English class, one of four AP offerings this year at the school, where I joined the class’ 12 students to study the construction of persuasive essays. I spent several more hours with teachers and students, although I needed several more days to check out all the list of programs and opportunities for students that Laura and her colleagues had assembled. In the time that I had, I got to know a bit about three programs that are clearly creating powerful opportunities for engagement and success for students.

First, I visited Hope’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program, run by teachers Lieutenant Colonel Raoul Archambault and First Sergeant Alan Kushner. Formerly part of Hope Leadership, which no longer exists as a separate learning community, the JROTC program continues to thrive. Enrolling 130 students in grades 9-12–nearly a tenth of Hope’s student body–JROTC combines academics, leadership and teamwork training, service learning, health and physical fitness, and more. I saw young people learning in a unique classroom, with desks on one side, a workout area on the other, and ample resources to support their JROTC commitment. The only school in Providence with a JROTC program, Hope receives federal funding for uniforms, materials, and a 50 percent subsidy for instructor salaries. JROTC students’ strong academic achievement, high rates of graduation, and higher education success repay the investment. Students I talked with said that they were grateful for the program’s structure, high expectations, and opportunity to share their skills with the city; if you see a military color guard at a Providence Bruins game or a Providence Public Schools high school graduation, you’re likely looking at Hope JROTC students in action.

I next met with art teacher Valerie Kline, who spent her lunch break sharing details of Hope’s partnership with the Rhode Island School of Design. In its eighth year, the partnership offers Hope Arts students the opportunity to pursue serious arts study and career preparation. Students participate in RISD’s Project Open Door program, which provides learning opportunities and mentors for students from Hope and several other urban schools from eighth grade through college. Hope students can earn RISD certificates–a professional credential–in a variety of fields, and RISD students and staff work at Hope to support students as they hone their skills and build their portfolios. RISD places three Master of Arts in teaching candidates at Hope for training and RISD students and staff members actively participate in Hope’s robust afterschool offerings. The Hope-RISD partnership also assures that up to two Hope Arts students per year are eligible for full 4-year RISD undergraduate scholarships. Clearly, Kline and her fellow Hope Arts teachers also serve as valuable assets to Hope students dedicated to approaching arts scholarship and practice seriously.

My last stop took me to Christine Auxier’s drama studio, part classroom and part stage. Auxier and 15 of her theater students were preparing for the following evening’s preview performance of Laurie Brooks’ Triangle, a play focused on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire disaster and its parallels to current-day immigrants’ issues. [Readers may remember that I shared info about a Triangle preview in a previous post.] In August, the Hope High School Theater Company will perform Triangle in Edinburgh, Scotland at the American High School Theater Festival, which takes place in conjunction with the city’s renowned Fringe Festival. The American High School Theater Festival showcases the best of high school theater in the United States. Hope is a repeat visitor to the Festival, having performed there previously in 2000 and 2004, and this year is Rhode Island’s only representative. It’s an incredible honor, the result of many years of dedicated effort and tradition within Hope’s theater program.

There’s so much more. I wish I could tell you about Hope Information Technology’s certification offerings for students, about Hope’s athletics program, about Hope’s student journalism successes. Through the years that I have been writing about education, I have felt far more love for high schools that I ever dreamed possible when I was a student myself. I share this not terribly astounding revelation as a way to frame the frankly giddy delight I experienced during my brief time at Hope. While what I observed may not be the experience of all students, it certainly represents what is possible and what we as a neighborhood and a city must celebrate and expand.

P.S.: In February’s column, I didn’t yet know which middle school my oldest child would choose as he moved from elementary school. People have wondered about what we decided, so I’m happy to report that once we get through the rigors of fifth grade and the delights of summer, he will be a student at Nathan Bishop Middle School*.

*Or so I expect, but do not actually know for sure. As of today, May 10, families of incoming middle school students have still not heard from PPSD about our kids’ school placements.

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