Sunday, October 31, 2010

2 Million Minutes of High School

High school youth coaches left the field after playing team-building activities, games like rock-paper-scissors as teams, and walked into the Chestnut Middle School Library where they engaged in a listening activity. Divided into groups, each youth coach had forty five seconds to describe what their post high school goals were. All the other members of the group were instructed to listen. At intervals the youth coaches froze and described what a good listener looked like. Good listeners were focused, made eye contact, kept their chins up, and nodded their heads. When asked how a teacher would react to a good listener one youth coach stated that the teacher would feel like “they are doing their job”. In their forty-five seconds, the coaches spoke with enthusiasm about their future plans. “I want a year of travel” because “what makes you smarter is not school but experience” going to “Miami and stuff”. When asked about funds, the coach responded, “save up and hope to win the lottery”. Another coach stated that she wanted to be an accountant because “I like numbers. I like how much control you have, the pressure. I want to move to California, get married. I already have someone I’ve been dating for a year and a half”. Once the listening activity was over, Sam Intrator asked the coaches how many minutes they spent in high school.

During the second part of the session the youth coaches watched a fragment of the movie “2 Million Minutes”, whose title refers to the number of minutes students spend in high school. The documentary follows two American students, two Indian students and two Chinese students, exploring the cultural, economic and social pressures these students face, emphasizing that US high school students lag behind in math and science. Among twenty-nine developed countries, the US ranks twenty-fourth in math.

After watching twenty minutes of the movie, the coaches discussed what they though the message of the movie was. Many voiced that they thought US students did not take advantage of their education, viewing it as a birthright. They spoke of the difference between the motivation of growing up with economic certainty and the motivation of students for whom education is a passport out of poverty. When the youth coaches were asked what steps could be taken now bridge the US’s lagging behind in math and science, and how they could achieve their own goals, they spoke of putting more of an emphasis on work and work ethics, of trying to do better than they were presently doing by “focusing on school, on yourself”. One youth coach stated that the best time to correct anything was now since they could not correct the past. It was emphasized that school grades are important but that there are also other skills and qualities that are important like the ability to communicate and listen effectively and the ability to lead, all qualities that the youth coaches demonstrate each week. After the discussion, each coach was asked to write a response to two questions. The first question asked about the message they, as coaches, could transmit to their elementary school players. The second question asked them to write down what they would do differently when they got back to school the next day. I will “take school seriously”, a student responded.

Photo Courtesy of Broken Pencil Productions

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