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For these kids, better than AIMS

Susan Notes:

Don't miss Joe Thomas's comments on this wonderful project, complete with
fabulous pictures

Thanks to An Old Soul blogger for featuring this story. Coming on a day with USA Today featuring a teacher complaint about kids not working hard enough, this is especially welcome.

By Slim Smith

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

That line from Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" could have been a description for Joe Thomas' sophomore class at Mesa Vista High School last week.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, his students labored through AIMS testing. "A lot of my students won't do well on it," Thomas acknowledges.

On Thursday, his students went to Whitman Elementary School to read to kids as part of the "Read Across America" program conducted in elementary schools all across the nation.

Which is the truer measure of progress?

Before you answer, there are some things you should probably know about the kind of kids you find in Thomas' classroom at Mesa Vista.

First, Mesa Vista is one of the city's two alternative schools. There are only 250 kids at the school and none of them is there by accident. They are referred from other schools for behavioral problems. They are generally thought to be too disruptive, too violent or too undisciplined to make it in a traditional high school setting.

Mesa Vista is one of the last doors a kid passes on his way to giving up on life.

And I guess that's what makes what happened Thursday at Whitman Elementary School all the more inspiring.

Because, for one day, a bunch of tough-talking, seemingly indifferent high school sophomores connected with younger kids with an enthusiasm that seems altogether inconsistent with the facade of silence and apathy they have built.

"Kids would rather seem tough than stupid," is the way Thomas puts it, noting that many of the students he tries to reach enter his class totally withdrawn. "What I saw Thursday was some kids who were willing to be vulnerable. That takes courage."

Thomas first approached his class with the idea in late January and he was struck with the enthusiasm that built.

While his better readers honed their reading skills, virtually all of his students found ways to contribute, from helping make posters to helping collect gifts for the students they would visit. And while most of his students are from poor families, they helped raise money and donations to ensure that every student in the classes they would read to would get a book. That's 300 books, all told.

This week, his classes put up posters on the bulletin boards at Mesa Vista, and Thomas has been amazed by the obvious pride these tough, disaffected kids have drawn from the experience.

"At the end of the year," Thomas says, "this is what they will remember."

And while it may be true that Vista's drop-out rate is high and the test scores are low, Thomas knows there are other measures.

Some of these kids are going to make it, after all.

And the AIMS test has nothing to do with it.

— Slim Smith
East Valley Tribune



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