By George J Elbaum
Novo Community School serves high risk students in grades 9-12 who are placed at the school for reasons such as expulsion, truancy, out-of-control behavior at school or home, and probation. The students typically work in a classroom setting, interact with their peers and change classes in ways similar to those of a comprehensive high school. However, the classes are small enough so the students are able to receive one-on-one assistance from their instructors, who not only provide academic instruction but also emphasize the skills needed to improve attendance and behavior. There is strong emphasis in maintaining a safe, orderly school environment conducive to learning.
My visit was arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves with strong support of Novo principal, Carey Johnson, and I met with about 2 dozen students from the combined classes supervised by instructors Ev Willason and Chris Clark. Ev and Chris had prepared the students for my visit by reviewing the chronology of the Holocaust and by reading Robert Cormier’s “Tunes For Bears To Dance To” or Hans Peter Richter’s novel “Friedrich”. (The former references the Holocaust and explores anti-semitism, while the latter traces the rise of the Nazis and early stages of the Holocaust through the experiences of a young boy.) At the same time, Jack had prepared me by stressing that students in this special alternative school often lead very insular lives in a narrow social environment, yet paradoxically are quite “worldly” in ways that may or may not be acceptable in society at large – they “may have made big mistakes or bad choices, but can sometimes reinvent themselves and commit to improving academically and in their life choices.” This potential was evident in the range and depth of their questions, some very naive and some very deep and philosophical. Photos of several students whose perceptive questions really resonated with me are shown below.