by George J Elbaum
As a repeat of my previous 3 visits (March 23, 2010, Feb 9, 2011 and Feb 28, 2013), I was again 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.
My visit was arranged again by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves and organized by Novo teacher Stephanie Boulianne. Novo’s new Principal Jesse Ramos also attended the session. 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 thoughtful and sensitive, and also from the personal connection that some showed afterwards.