Learning from a Principal (and the students!) for a Day
The Principal for a Day program is sponsored by the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce with the idea of connecting the business community to the education community throughout the state. It truly is a great idea. I have been participating the in the PFAD program for 4 years now. And each time that I’m invited to a school, I learn some very interesting things about education, the role of administrators and teachers and, most importantly, about the kids. There have been numerous discussions about curriculums being established to ensure that students are well prepared for standardized testing. There have also been some great discussions about funding for projects and fulfillment of wish lists, Middle States Accreditation, Department of Education issues, No Child Left Behind Act, referendums hoped for, remedial help and the list keeps going.
This year, I was teamed up with Kathie Mattix, the incredibly dedicated Principal of the Meadowood Program in the Red Clay School District. Meadowood is a program for students with special needs, ages three to twenty-one, who have a need to enhance or develop functional life skills to increase their level of independence. Students served by the Meadowood Program are educated in schools throughout the Red Clay School District and at the Meadowood Transition Program (MTP).
Education for Meadowood students occurs in multiple environments. Students in district elementary, middle, and high schools, plus the MTP, participate in regular education settings, community experiences, and vocational sampling opportunities. The preschool students are educated with peers who are not disabled through a cooperative program with the Western YMCA.
I must say that I didn’t know what to expect when I arranged to meet with Kathie on a beautiful late October morning. We had planned to meet at the Meadowood School but Kathie advised me that she had some of the Meadowood students involved in a 16-week work rotation at Christina Hospital so it would be best to meet there. Upon my arrival at the hospital, I was lucky enough to join the celebration that had begun. The hospital staff, students and administrators from Red Clay were celebrating the success of the program that is currently in its inaugural year at Christiana. I was able to speak with some of the students as well as their “customers” and it was clear that this program was of benefit to everyone. In fact, one of the student-workers, Chris, was selected as Employee of the Month by his co-workers at Christiana Care for his hard work and exemplary customer service.
Back at Meadowood, I was introduced to a number of the dedicated staff members and students from the program. I was invited to one of the classrooms where the students had learned culinary skills. I was served a sample of their meal and it was outstanding. The students took particular delight in watching my face as I reacted to the spicy Asian stir-fry dish they had prepared. It was really good. I also toured the preschool and grade school programs where the kids were learning various lessons. You won’t see more smiles at Disneyworld than you will at the Meadowood School. I was also invited to purchase some of the baked goods prepared by the students and sold by the students as part of the Sugar Rush program. The students were like young entrepreneurs selling me cookies and following through with the cash transaction. The entire tour was an uplifting experience.
I was later honored as a lunch guest of the educational staff and some selected students who were in the Transition Program. The lunch was served lunch by the kitchen employees and students at Meadowood. I was able to hear about some of their career plans as they were nearing the end of the program. They all had great questions for me and were very curious about life beyond Meadowood. But, the discussion was not unlike the discussion that you might hear around the table in your office lunchroom. The thing that strikes you when you spend time with these kids is that they are a lot like the rest of us in many ways. They, too, have hopes for the future while feeling a little anxiety about it as well. They, too, just want an opportunity to show a prospective employer what they have learned and what they have to offer. I’m sure they will bring a lot to the workplace when they get there. And while they are similar to you and me, in many other ways, they are different. They are humble. They have no hidden agendas. They do not worry about office politics. They are appreciative of everything they are offered. They are polite and mannerly. They are nearly always happy. And to be in the presence of those who are so sincere, well, it makes your day go a little better.