Message from Dr. Spurka - GROWL
Wednesday I had the privilege of taking one of our PTSA leaders on a tour of our GROWL program and giving her a behind-the-scenes look at our new initiative. The program took over a year to plan, and I was excited to show it to our parent who has been instrumental with community relations since we opened six years ago. I couldn't be more proud of our new program. Two weeks ago at Katie Reeves' community meeting, our board member, I received the biggest compliment. One of our neighboring principals announced that his school year was off to a great start and that he was anxious to watch the success of our GROWL program so he could look into incorporating it in his school.
With all the excitement over our program, however, I was reminded at our recent PTSA meeting that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for GROWL or understands the value our program provides for our entire student body and staff. I would like to share an overview of our program and outline the tour on Wednesday which I believe captures the benefits of our program. I have always, and will continue to, value our school's relationship with our community and input is always important. In fact, it was the input of our stakeholders that brought about the initial idea of GROWL.
The following timeline of our second GROWL day highlights the five major components of the program that my guest and I observed:
8:20 a.m. Teacher Collaboration
We started our GROWL tour by visiting the World Language Department where our eleven teachers were discussing ways to incorporate the new on-line resources to better meet the needs of all our students. As we sat in the room, our thoughts were that we hoped other professionals that we rely on like our doctors, dentists, and auto mechanics are collaborating with colleagues to ensure their practices are utilizing the most up-to-date data and strategies. Leaving the World Language department and walking the academic halls, we passed teams of teachers from other departments engaged in similar collaboration to support student learning and achievement.
8:30 a.m. Freshman Seminar
Next, we visited the auditorium where Ms. Premoli began the program by providing her "Ninth Grade Notes" to about 250 freshmen. She updated our students on Homecoming Week, outlined expectations for PAWS that started the next day, and acknowledged our students' positive behavior, reminding them of the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The program continued with a presentation from Gigi Whiteside, one of Fulton County's Instructive Technology experts, on multiple ways students can use their personal technology to increase their academic achievement. Ms. Whiteside's presentation is posted to our website so that students may refer back to the various programs available. Parents are encouraged to read through the presentation as they also may find much of the technology useful.
8:45 a.m. Freshman Intramurals
We entered the auxiliary gym and saw twelve students doing step aerobics led by Coach Chambless. It was great seeing our students in step with her and wearing matching GROWL t-shirts. We crossed the hall into the main gym to see our students involved in intramural basketball. It was incredible to watch the level of competition, but most importantly to see our students having fun. One student was particularly excited that he had the privilege of playing basketball on the varsity court. With the pressures on our students to grow up in high school, I really enjoyed seeing them relaxing, exercising, and having fun.
9:00 a.m. Study Hall
All ninth graders had the option to choose an intramural sport or a study hall. When you think of study hall, you might envision students sitting in rows while the teacher keeps her finger on her lips, admonishing students to be quiet. In our study halls, however, it was incredible to see our office staff and counselors providing emotional and social support to our young students in addition to helping them solve algebraic equations. At the same time, students helped one another with homework and collaborated in small groups to work on projects. It was particularly rewarding to hear staff members comment on their own excitement over students' willingness to ask for help and openness to working with others.
9:25 a.m. Flex Time for Upper Classmen
Lastly, we visited the cafeteria and Student Center where about a hundred upper classmen worked independently or in teams to support one another. In addition, we talked with students who just finished their college English class, which meets twice a week. I asked our students where they were going since their next class wasn't until 10:50 a.m. Their responses differed from Chik-fil-a to Starbucks, to I need to run home. One comment in particular struck me as validating the significance of our program. One student responded, "Thank you Dr. Spurka for this program. We feel like we are in college. You are trusting us to make good decisions and how to best balance our time." When our students go to college, one of their biggest learning curves is balancing time with their course schedule. College doesn't run on bells from 8:20 am to 3:30 pm every day.
I do understand that change can be difficult, but we promise that we will continue to serve this community and do what we think is in the best interest of our students, every one of them. GROWL has benefits for students in all grade levels as well as for our entire staff. Should you have any questions about our program feel free to attend my parent coffee on September 15 at 9:00 am or send me an e-mail, and I will be happy to offer you a tour with me during one of our GROWL days. Research continues to show that community engagement is one of the top factors in a school's success, and we could not be one of the top high schools in the southeast without your support.