by George J Elbaum
As a repeat of my visit last year (Feb 9, 2011), I was invited to speak at the Novo Community School in San Jose. Novo 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, so my presentation this year was divided into two back-to-back talks: one to students in the regular Novo program and another to students in a separate program.
My visit was arranged again by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, and while Novo principal, Carey Johnson, was not on campus during this visit, I met again with instructor Ev Willason plus new ones: Amy Sinnott, Anne Elwart, Stephanie Boulianne, Gabriela Manzanares, Timon Cooly, Debra Keys, Stacy McCabe, and Jacqueline Smith. As last year, 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.