Economic hardship. Budget cuts. I understand that we need to make hard choices. Our state education system just cut the leaders of tomorrow out of the budget. Gone are the Pennsylvania Governor's Schools for Excellence: five-week, boarding summers schools for students of promise. (High school students need to apply, audition, interview etc. to be accepted into these prestigious programs.) It cost about $2.7 million to run the 8 programs that make up the schools: Agricultural Sciences (PGSAS), Arts (PGSA), Global Entrepreneurship (PGSGE), Health Care (PGSHC), Information, Society & Technology (PGSIST), International Studies (PGSIS), The Sciences (PGSS), and Teaching (PGST). Once again, mediocrity rules.
This is devastating to an educational climate that is already prejudiced against achievers. No Child Left Behind has been great in getting kids who are just shy of the middle line to raise their scores--so necessary for schools to keep their funding. This is where teachers and administrators and school boards are concentrating their efforts (often at the expense of arts programming--another of my gripes). But kids who naturally do well on the tests are getting the shaft. Why concentrate on helping those kids fulfill their potential when they can be left on autopilot and meet expectations held by the state? If I haven't be vocal on this issue, it is because I am busy supplementing my own kids' education by taking them to museums, watching documentaries, reading to them (yes I still read to my kids, ages 11 and 14) and getting them involved in extra-cirricular activites.
Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones and herself a past student at PGSA says it this way:
"How, in a nation that idolizes its infants and children, can we find it acceptable to abandon them on the cusp of making their dreams - dreams that will be greater and more important than our own - become realities?"
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial 'Scandal for Schools' says this in : Why cut great programs for the best students?' published on 2/7/08, "America needs super-achievers to scale the heights as much as it needs underachievers to meet firm standards. Nothing is more important to a nation lagging in science and math and seeking to stay internationally competitive than to encourage a culture of high achievement among its youth."
I am biased. I spent two summers at the Pennsylvania Governor's School of Arts: one as a student going into my senior year and one as an assistant instructor just graduated from college. It is not an understatement to say that this program changed my life. In many cultures, youth are sent out on a vision quest. PGSA was mine. I spent the summer with other kids who were at the top of their game in the arts and teachers who were dedicated to catching my attention while they had it. No sweating for grades. We were in this for the pure experience. In my summers at PGSA, I made jewelry, sculpted, learned improv, saw my first independent film, learned to draw in a new way, wrote poetry, learned to knit, learned sign language while teaching deaf students, read some great new authors, attended dance and theater performances, learned about art history, took leadership training, and learned photography skills. And here's the kicker--only about half of that was part of the curriculum. The other half happened as a result of hanging around other creative kids who were blooming in this environment.
A year after I went to PGSA as a student we had a reunion where two alumni were given awards for their leadership over the past year. What had they done to take the arts and the experience of the school back into their communities? The competition was steep because these kids were on fire. I didn't win. Didn't even come close, though I had done much upon my return including helping young kids write, produce, and create a puppet show. In an era of arts funding cuts, this kind of leadership is a real boon to the community. And the loss of it, is devastating.
I am personally going to be writing letters to my PA state congressmen (Mike Brubaker and Tom Creighton) in the hopes that this program is one of the first to be reinstated when our economy gets up and running again. We cannot afford to ignore our brightest scholars. My kids are entering 9th and 7th grades next year. My hope is that these schools are back in time for them to strive to earn the title Govie.