Passion. Power. Agency: Building 21 – by Ed Meehan

Edward Meehan - The Rider-Pool FoundationEditorial by Ed Meehan, Executive Director – The Rider-Pool Foundation

There is encouraging news to share about public education in Allentown. Specifically about a group of individuals who took personal responsibility, worked together, and did something important and meaningful this year. I am referring to the students of the Building 21 Class of 2019.

Of course, there are numerous individuals and organizations that worked hard and invested considerably and rightfully feel a sense of pride and ownership in Building 21. We should all be grateful, and I salute them. However, the students made the high school’s inaugural year a success.

On paper, the students are no different than other 9th graders in the Allentown School District. They are very representative of ASD high school enrollment in terms of race, ethnicity, Special Education status, and English Language Learner status. The percentage eligible for free and reduced lunch is slightly higher than the ASD average (63 percent vs. 54 percent).

They are extraordinary because they are not extraordinary. They are kids, just like all of our other kids. What makes them different is the community of learning and support they are helping to create. Their motto is “Passion, Power and Agency.”

Each of these students took the risk to be part of the first class in a brand new school. Every one of them left their neighborhood and what is familiar to go to a different location, often a good distance from home, and interact with new kids from all over the city.

They have explored what drives their passion through learning experiences like the one at Lehigh Valley Health Network. Through the Health Care Career Discovery Program they learned what it is like to work in health care, and how it could be possible for them to work in that field in the future.

There are numerous other experiences for the students that connect learning with exposure to future potential jobs. They have stepped out, embraced new learning, opened themselves up to new ideas, and explored possibilities. Their Passion is demonstrable.

From the Fall to the Spring, the class achieved stellar gains in reading, solid gains in science, and average improvement in math. All of the faculty will return next year, which is a testimony to these students and their work. Things are moving in the right direction.

The students are learning that they have Power. I have seen them challenge themselves. Imagine that you are very nervous about speaking in public, as most of us are. Then imagine that you decide to challenge yourself by volunteering to give a talk before 150 very important community leaders. Then imagine that you are in the 9th grade. Then imagine you hit it out of the park. Bring on the next challenge!

The Building 21 Class of 2019 is tapping into the power within themselves to learn, imagine a future for themselves, and shape the world they choose for themselves and their community.

The Building 21 Class of 2019 has presence, Agency, and is finding its voice. They will make positive contributions in our community. Twenty-five students chose to leave the program during the year and return to other high schools. But 134 successfully completed their first year at this high school. There were no dropouts.

The class had a 90 percent attendance rate, beating their target of 88 percent, which bodes well for their eventual graduation rate. There were very few serious infractions relative to other schools. It was heartening for me to pass by the school many mornings and evenings and seeing dozens of Building 21 students playing touch football, socializing, exercising, and just enjoying their youth. I no longer take that for granted. This September, they will be the “bigs” for the Class of 2020.

Over 500 ASD students applied for the coming year, which is one out of every three 8th graders in the district. It is my hope that all ASD students will have this kind of opportunity in the near future. The Building 21 Class of 2019 will help these freshman with the understanding and appreciation of what it means to be a member of their learning community: a culture of inquiry, hard work, respect, and opportunity.

That culture will be contagious, within and without Building 21. It’s a great step in the right direction for learning and growth for our future citizens. It is encouraging news for all of us.

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