Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spring Fling

My students really excel at non-academic ventures. At the carnation sale that my class organized for Valentines Day, they were rock-stars. They transformed into artists, salespeople, and project managers. I was proud.

When myself and one other teacher decided to plan a school dance, I was confident that my students would be able to execute on the plan. We picked a date and a theme, got all necessary permission and funding, and then began the publicity. This was really their show - I told them to make posters, and out came glitter and clue and sharpies. They covered enormous sheets of paper with flowers and butterflies, advertising the dance. They covered the school with their brightly colored propaganda - come to the dance and be cool.

One day, the came to me in a panic - people were saying they weren’t going. 5 previous dances had been cancelled, and there hadn’t been a successful dance at the school in 5 years. This is why we decided to take the project on in the first place, but it was also the major obstacle that we faced. It was hard to invest kids in going to something that they doubted would happen.

I looked at the gaggle of pretty, popular girls who populated my class. This was an occasion when I could profit from the things that usually drove me crazy - their loud, obnoxious cattiness, their obsession with boys and popularity, and looking nice. Their unbelievable, unbreakable confidence.

I wrote in big block letters across the top of a poster: “Sign below if you’re going to the Spring Fling!” Peer pressure exists whether we like it or not - we may as well use it to our advantage. I had my class sign the poster, and told the girls to make it very known that they would be at the dance. Soon the whole page was covered in names - many of whom would never actually get permission slips signed by their teachers allowing them to go. Regardless - I felt like a huge success, and like for a split second I had had a useful bit of insight into the psychology of 13 year olds.

Filled with confidence, I wrote on another enormous poster: “Songs we want to hear at Spring Fling!” Kids went wild, writing their favorite songs. We followed closely behind them, crossing out profanities, but the goal was achieved - the kids felt like they had some ownership over the dance.

The turnout was as good as to be expected - we had DJ Koala (a student in my class) having the time of his life as his peers danced to the songs he spun. We bought disco lights and streamers and transformed the cafeteria as well as we could. We created a backdrop for them to take pictures in front of (since everyone knows that’s what dances are really all about), and we served fried chicken and yellow rice (for some reason, people in the Bronx feel strongly that dinner food MUST be served at any event. My idea of chips and salsa was laughed off as soon as it was put on the table.)

May 13th is going to be the ‘Beach Ball’ - a dance to celebrate the end of the ELA and MAth State exams. We will have a luau theme, and are ordering leis, beach balls,a nd grass skirts. It’s amazing how many people are supporting the effort this time. The Spring Fling was a guerrilla movement, led by myself and one other TFA teacher at the school. Because of its success, we have the principal giving us funds to order real decorations, and other school aides brainstorming how to create a beach theme.

But again, it goes back to the kids. In a situation like this, success depends on not only their poster making skills, but on the groupthink that dominates their lives. As long as the Beach Ball is still the ‘cool’ thing to do when May 13 comes, we’ll have a great success.

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