by George J Elbaum
As a repeat of my previous 2 visits (March 23, 2010 and 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. These 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 Novo principal, Carey Johnson. I spoke with one group in the morning, with teachers Stephanie Boulianne and Amherst Yohannes, and a second group in the afternoon with teacher Mark Shadduck. Carey Johnson attended both sessions. As in previous years, 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 their questions, ranging from quite simplistic to very thoughtful and sensitive, and also from the personal connection that some showed afterwards.