I returned from attending two graduations a week ago — my first-born grandson Alex’s high school graduation in Westlake, Ohio, and my youngest Oliver’s elementary school graduation in Pittsburgh, Pa.
While more than 300 Westlake High School graduates were predominantly white, those of Dilworth Elementary School (from kindergarten to fifth grade) in Pittsburgh were mostly black children.
Unlike the Westlake High School graduation, which took place in Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University that had more than 5,000 tiered seats and was fully air-conditioned, Dilworth Elementary School building was 100 years old and several fans were blowing warm air from the stage to the audience of about 200, who were fanning themselves with a sheet of paper or bare hands.
The principal of Dilworth announced that in 2014, Dilworth was named as one of 337 elementary schools out of more than 135,000 schools nationwide that received National Blue Ribbon School Award.
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The fact that Oliver received six different awards that day — including the Presidential Award for Educational Excellence, Award for Students with Highest Average Grade Points, and Academic Excellence Awards in three different categories — isn’t at all important here.
What he had experienced during his five years of schooling is worth talking about.
Before moving to Dilworth, Oliver had attended a private Christian magnet school for three years, where most of the students were white and the school’s main focuses were “to foster each child to become independent, compassionate and purposeful humans” and that they teach “head, heart, and hands.”
But as far as discipline is concerned, the school failed, my daughter told me.
The teachers let the children solve most of problems among themselves and never gave students any written tests. Most of the school year, the students, boys and girls alike, do a lot of fun things — including knitting and crocheting, drawing, making posters and signs, and other crafts.
Oliver told me that he received “D” at his first reading test at Dilworth, because he had never taken such a written test before.
“But after that, I got mostly A’s,” he said proudly.
I still remember the conversation I had with my daughter, after learning that she had many consultations with Oliver’s homeroom teacher about a child who had been bullying Oliver and that Oliver would attend a new school where most of the students were black children.
“Doesn’t it bother you that most of Oliver’s classmates would be African-Americans?” I asked, showing my ignorance.
“Nope,” she said. “At first visit, I fell in love with the staff and the atmosphere. These black kids might be hungry sometimes and might not have many toys and books my son has, but they’re well-behaved children. That’s what I value the most, Mom — a school that could discipline children so that they could focus on what they learn, instead of worrying about being harassed or even hit by his classmates. The other school overlooked some very important facts about ‘learning.’”
Oliver’s remarkable progress almost overnight tells me that the learning atmosphere and a child’s will to learn go hand-in-hand. Oliver also understands that his dissatisfaction at the earlier school helped him recognize the loving attitudes of his new teachers at Dilworth and his new classmates’ will to learn fueled his motivation to do his best.
This brings two serious questions to my mind: How much will this grandma progress in the next two years? Is there such school as Dilworth School of Aging?
I will definitely look into it.
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.