Patrick Henry and Allendale: More Alike than Different?

Today is my last day teaching at Patrick Henry Academy (besides submitting my final grades). I will be giving final exams in both my biology and chemistry classes. I thought a good final exam for biology would be, “Giving an example from each chapter we covered this semester, explain life.” But I didn’t go that route.

I started teaching here at the beginning of January, filling in for a teacher on medical leave. My first “real” teaching job, I’ve been thankful for this opportunity, not just as a job, but also to meet new people and to learn about being a teacher.

And what did I learn? That being a teacher is hard. I knew that it would be challenging, and that it would involve lots of outside the classroom hours, but I underestimated just how much. I definitely have a much bigger appreciation for teachers now than I ever have before.

And do you know what else surprised me about teaching at Patrick Henry? That students at PHA and Allendale-Fairfax High School (AFHS) share more similarities than differences.

More Alike than Different?

At first glance, the student body population at PHA (probably ~98% white) and AFHS (probably ~10% white) are like day and night  (ummmm… maybe not the most politically correct analogy). AF students go to school for free, and more than 90% of them qualify for free or reduced lunch. The tuition at PHA is a few thousand dollars per year per student (a bargain compared to many private schools in bigger towns). Without knowing all the demographics, I would bet that most AF students do not live in two-parent homes, while most PHA students do.

But when you dig deeper, into their brains and hearts, and you will see that these teenagers are not so different, just like I learned that my kids are Not That Different than kids in Allendale. Very smart and talented kids are educated at Patrick Henry; very smart and talented kids receive an education at Allendale schools. And whether students attend PHA or AFHS, some work hard, while some refuse to do the required work.

The truth is that education (as a whole) is mostly what you make of it. As someone whose own children are homeschooled, and who taught at private school, while also working for the public schools, there is no perfect one-size-fits-all choice for the education of all children. (You can read more on this topic here.)

(Of course, the funny part is when people pay thousands of dollars for their child to go to school, and he or she sleeps in class and barely passes, if at all.)

I cannot speak from the perspective of a teacher in Allendale County, but one thing that was really nice about teaching at PHA was the overall good behavior and attitudes (not every kid, of course). Even the students that did not do their work in class were respectful and compliant.

A Final Comparison

As I said, each educational system has its pros and cons. I do not intend to lay those all out here, but I did learn about the difference that the size of a school can make.

AFHS is not a large school (it is a single-A school, even considering that it is the only school in the entire county). However, it is much larger than PHA. I believe that Allendale-Fairfax Middle School (6th – 8th grades) has more students than all of PHA (preschool – 12th grade).

Being small, and with less bureaucracy, PHA can be more nimble in its decision-making. Even for a change that will affect every student, it doesn’t take too many steps to have that put into effect. With any larger school (especially in public schools, which are further restricted by what the State Department allows and requires), major changes can be much slower to implement.

However, one major drawback with a smaller school is that all the students in a grade are put together in a single class. While PHA does offer some AP classes and upperclassmen do have some flexibility in their schedules, the options  are limited. There are no college prep vs tech prep tracks. All 17 of my chemistry students are learning the same material at the same pace. For one-third of my students, I could go much faster and they would be fine, but another handful of students would benefit if I would slow down, or eliminate some of the information.

And the Future . . .

While I have enjoyed my experience with the faculty and students at Patrick Henry, I told the leadership a couple of months ago that I did not want to return to teach there next fall. Our hearts are in Allendale, for the students and families in Allendale.

I am excited about continuing to grow and learn in my roles in the Allendale County Schools, hopefully with the same role as Parent & Community Liaison, as I see a huge potential for opportunity there. And I am also excited about being an assistant football coach at AFHS (spring game is tonight!).

Do you have any first-hand experience with multiple educational systems? What did you learn?

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