|"This Homecoming thing could blow up on twitter"|
Today, Homecoming has transformed into something much bigger. At our school, which only dates back to 1953, the tradition goes far beyond welcoming back alumni to the school. It involves all sorts of activities. There's is spirit week where student and staff dress to each day's theme, the Powderpuff Football game followed by the spirit bonfire, the Pep Rally, the pre-game tailgates, the Homecoming Dance. Maybe most exciting is the football game where our Patriots take on a member of the Commonwealth District (where we have struggled to create a rivalry simply because we are two hours from all the other teams.) Our teams have fared pretty well against Commonwealth foes but next year we are moving to the much closer opponents of the Jefferson District.
My colleague wrote on the subject of our school community a bit last year in this October 2011 post. Homecoming week illustrates the duality of today's public schools. First and foremost we are tasked with "educating" our young people academically. But schools do so much more. The most valuable experiences can occur far from a classroom. I know this was the case for me when I attended the very same school where I now teach. Character, leadership, responsibility, teamwork and the basic skills of how to get along in a larger society all cultivated through something other than a formal lesson. Are schools the only place where this occurs? Certainly not. But in a school, in a school community, we have the opportunity to help young people develop themselves.
Outsiders often overlook this unwritten curriculum so integral to the growth of students helping to prepare them for their future. What students learn and pick up beyond the classroom through things like athletics, clubs, honor societies and the diverse culture of our school community is so valuable. As Brewer likely understood, it is about the people. Seeing a student excel on the field or stage in a way you would never see in a desk is an experience unlike any other. The non-academic opportunities provided by a school environment afford our students chances to immerse themselves in life.
Sure we try to teach things like respect for authority, punctuality and the importance of a good work ethic but that sometimes gets lost in translation. The effect is some students simply don't like school. Maybe nothing will change this but activities that some might call meaningless can actually combat this dislike. I'm reminded of the smiles on all the faces arriving on the school doorstep to a high five from the mascot, watching 800 students from varying backgrounds mingle amongst each other before a game, seeing a 17 year old present to a group of several hundred peers, watching the C student become a leader by turning to a teammate demanding more effort; all hard to replicate.
There is constant tension between our academic mission and the non-academic pursuits of a school. Extra-curriculars can be extremely frustrating and disruptive to the classroom teacher. But, coming out to a game, service project or a concert can help remind us to look at education as so much more than academics. It has been a hectic week with PSATs, fire drills, and all the Homecoming associated activities, but we manage to balance it all. Our young pupils manage to do so in a way I am not certain that our generation could equal. Life is busy and the fatigue of constantly being so busy is obvious. The chance to relax and join with them in what Mr. Brewer could hardly have envisioned all those years ago is a chance we should not pass up.