One of the unique things that sets Indi-ED apart from other educational settings is that we consistently exceed the expectations the general public has about what kids are capable of. We do that by setting the bar high for our kids and giving them opportunities to practice the skills that will benefit them in the real world today and for many years to come.
I have three distinct examples, just from this past month. The first was at indoor soccer. The coaches couldn’t believe how “good” the kids were and “how well they get along.” This is not a fluke, but is because we focus on practicing collaboration and communication skills. It doesn’t mean that our kids are magically perfect and never have conflict or disagreements, but that we provide the tools and space to be able to work through those moments in which they earn respect for each other and know how to work through some of the normal daily frustrations that come with this thing we call life.
The second was an opportunity that we had with a local media outlet. The reporter insisted on following me around to talk about our trash initiative, what and why we were trying to clean up 50,000 pounds of trash at Clam Bayou. I made multiple attempts to encourage the reporter to speak to the kids instead of me. When he finally got around to talking to the kids, the reporter was blown away. The questions and comments we usually get, “How old are you?! You are so well spoken!” Once again it is because we provide them many opportunities throughout the year to practice those skills. We speak to them like adults and we take advantage of every opportunity that we can so that they can speak with and interact with professionals and everyday people in our community. We take them to local businesses, run an educational table at the Science Festival, host a tent at Localtopia to raise money for our school and awareness of needs in our community and share solutions as to how we can all work together to solve them.
All of this takes stepping out of your comfort zone, which we encourage daily, whether in the classroom teaching lessons to their classmates or out in the community. At the Keep Pinellas Beautiful Luncheon when we were recognized for our work at Clam Bayou, we encouraged our students to speak to professionals that they did not know. That takes courage if you are an adult, so think of the head start our kids are getting by doing it now. As a result, they made some contacts, followed up in the following weeks, and extended invitations to attend our monthly Community Connections, where we invite local leaders to come to Indi-ED and interact with our kids.
Yes, our kids are confident, well spoken, think critically, and are well rounded. Sometimes they reach the high bar, sometimes they fall and have to get up and try again, but each and every time they are nervous, unsure about themselves, or make a mistake, as long as they are willing to put the effort into reaching for the high bar they are growing and eventually become confident enough to pull other kids (and sometimes adults) up to the high bar with them.