A school that anticipates kids’ needs

Posted 1/3/24

I wrote a lengthy article this week about Garden City Elementary and the tour I took a few weeks ago and, as a good or cowardly journalist should, kept myself as well out of it as well out of it as I …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

A school that anticipates kids’ needs


I wrote a lengthy article this week about Garden City Elementary and the tour I took a few weeks ago and, as a good or cowardly journalist should, kept myself as well out of it as well out of it as I could manage. I had originally thought of writing the article in the first person, as the experience truly did affect me, but that point of view began to feel indulgent as I went on, and I abandoned it.

But with space to spare on the editorial page at the last minute, and having actually quite a bit to say about Garden City, I thought I might reopen those early drafts and share some of my thoughts on the subject.

I went to a public school, K-12. I went to a pretty good public school, all things considered! But it wasn’t anything like Garden City. It was probably much more like what any one of us over the age of 25 who attended public school experienced. Rigid, punitive. Overly concerned with behavioral management, often unsympathetic to the challenges kids face on a daily basis.

I was bullied a lot, by students and by teachers. I remember being yelled at and sent to the principal’s office repeatedly in third grade for slacking off, when in reality my eyes were only wandering because I couldn’t see the board. A kinder teacher would, in the first days of fourth grade, recommend to my parents that I get glasses.

So when I came to Garden City and saw a line going into the nurse’s office first thing for school wide eye exams, I have to admit my heart was immediately warmed, and I was just a little bit jealous. A school that not only addresses kids’ needs but anticipates them is something we all deserved, and precious few of us ever got.

Going through the school with Principal Byerlee, I felt that same feeling over and over again. Garden City is a school that is, at least from my outsider’s eye, is preeminently occupied with the well-being of its students. You can see it everywhere. You can see it in the soundproofing all over the cafeteria so kids can talk at the decibels at which kids talk without fear of being yelled at or overstimulated (my school had a noise-reactive traffic light, and if it went to red the whole cafeteria had to sit in silence for five minutes). You can see it in the reading cubbies in the library (a moment of privacy is something I don’t remember being truly allowed, much less encouraged, in my entire public education). You can see it in the way students seem to interact with each other. I’ve rarely seen so many kids so consistently gentle.

I’m about as far from the “ten miles both ways through the snow!” type as you can get. I believe it’s the primary duty of all adults to make life a little easier for the kids who come after, but there was definitely a little part of me that bristled walking around Garden City. Maybe reading my article, you’ll bristle too. Growing up learning that kids need to be able to sit still and be quiet at all times in order to be “good,” seeing the controlled chaos of a Garden City classroom is unnerving. But I would ask you to do your best to tamp down your bristle. I think if you really think back to your actual childhood, you’ll remember that you always learned the best, and the most when you were moving around, speaking your mind, taking up space, and allowed to be yourself.

I don’t mean to be harsh on other schools and other educators. So much of what’s possible for kids is a result of what’s possible for schools, and most schools are understaffed, and undersupplied to the breaking point. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

But I’ve been to quite a few of the schools around Cranston now for various events, and I know that my limited experience can never give the whole story. I was never around to witness a tired, hungry, overstimulated kid having a breakdown, for example. But I think I’ve gotten enough of a read on the culture to imagine how it would go. I imagine that kid would be given space, patience, and time to regulate. If it were at Garden City, I imagine they’d be taken to one of those little individual instruction rooms and given a chance to chill out for a bit, before rejoining the class scribbling on those cool white board tables. I imagine that kid would head home for the day feeling a lot better about themselves, and about the institution of the public school system, than a lot of us did when we were their age.

editorial, Garden City, schools


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here