Matthew, Assistant Principal / AP Physics Teacher, Father, UT
Matt is an Assistant Principal and AP Physics Teacher at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) in Nevada. RE-ENVISIONED visited SLCSE as part of our School Spotlight #schoolstour, which aims to understand school communities in more depth. We loved every moment at SLCSE. You can find more posts from SLCSE by searching #slcse on the "A New Conversation" page.
The Salt Lake City Center for Science Education (SLCSE) is a unique lab school serving a diverse 6-12th grade student population in Salt Lake City. From their website: "At SLCSE, we develop the character and skills necessary to "Change Reality." We are courageous and persistent problem-solvers. We take healthy risks. We make mistakes and learn from our mistakes. We care about the quality of our work. We use professional language and kindness to develop learning communities. We take care of our abundant resources and use them to serve our school community and beyond. We use our curiosity, imagination and adaptability to direct ourselves in our quest; as learners, critical thinkers and ethical world citizens." You can find out more at http://slcse.weebly.com/ .
We like to start with talking about a child you really care about and telling us about that individual child.
A couple names popped into my head immediately. I’ll go with Anthony. He was one of our original students. He’s really an amazing young man.
I think it was the summer before eighth grade started - he had a traumatic event happen in his life. His mentor at the boys and girls club committed suicide. His dad had never really been in the picture. He was just really on the edge. He was a tagger and would go out on the weekend and did good work. He was really, really at risk, and he started to buy into this place. He found a niche and founded people who supported him.
Our slogan at SLCSE is “change reality” and it came from him. His senior year, Mr. Madden, the principal at the time, was in talking to that class – I think they were seniors – talking about post-graduation options. And Anthony made the comment, “you know we aren’t all going to graduate. We aren’t all going to make it – that’s just the reality of it.” And Mr. Madden said “well, then let’s change reality.” It kind of stuck.
And Anthony’s really changed reality. In eighth grade he got really into b-boying - break dancing. He got into the whole culture of b-boying and the whole history and he got onto a crew, etc. I don’t even know how to explain this because I don’t even know how to talk about it. He found just a way of finding positivity and finding a positive outlet for the struggle, the things that he was going through and how hard things could be.
At talent show, he would get up and give like spoken word – the history of b-boying and what it meant to him. He started volunteering at the boys and girls club and teaching b-boying to other kids.
It’s been really fun to watch him and stay in contact with him as he sees opportunities opening up that when he was in eighth grade it didn’t seem like he saw them, it didn’t seem like he realized they were there. He’ll get his associates degree in December in Social Work, and he wants to be a social worker and work with kids. The system that he grew up in and the system he’s been volunteering in. I don’t know…When I need my faith restored in humanity, I think about Anthony.
He’ll come by once in awhile and just say hi. The year after he graduated he would come back every Thursday and Mr. Splain’s son wanted to learn how to b-boy and so he would come and set up in the cafeteria and teach him how to dance.
His junior year he did Youth Link – a program where they go and do volunteer work in a developing country for two weeks. They self fund and need to raise about $3000. Anthony’s family had no way of contributing anything to that, so he went to the Gateway on the corner of the lake and danced with his hat out and raised all the money he needed. So he went to Cambodia and came back just on fire. He realized he could make a difference and find success – just awesome, awesome things.
I think I’m going to cry. He sounds very special. When you think about him when he’s done with his school career, what would make a good life for him?
We actually talked about this. I grew pretty close to him while he was here and we would look at college applications and talk about the future. I have this trajectory that I see for him in his life. His plan as of his senior year was to get his degree in social work and start a nonprofit program to use dance, b-boying, to give kids that outlet that it was for him. Give them a way to see that culture in a new way, a positive way. Or find a new sense of culture through b-boying.
His family is from Chile, and he’s been going back and visiting and spending time there with his family. And he found a b-boy crew in Santiago and started dancing there and making connections there. He goes all over the country and finds people in the same culture and finds way to connect positively with them. He wants to show kids that if you grow up in the west side there are great things about this life. There’s great things in this community that can help you in life.
I see him as a community leader and as someone walking down the street and kids are yelling his name and he maybe stops and does some dancing for a minute. He’ll be talking to kids and helping them out. I see him as an enormous, positive force wherever he goes.
Why school? Why do you think we have school as a society? What’s the purpose?
That’s deep. That’s way deep. I’m going to take the perspective as why school right now for the kids that I have. It’s not like we’re training them for a specific thing. I see a big part of my job as an educator and a big part of the job of education in general is to prepare kids to solve problems, to think, to answer questions, and to adapt to situations.
It’s why I have a diverging philosophy from how school was for me going up where educators are meant to deliver education so that they can answer questions. That’s how my secondary schooling was: teacher up front and now let me deliver you knowledge. Now you can pass tests.
There’s big things ahead for the kids that we have and we don’t know what those things are yet. So how do we prepare them for that? My answer is that we teach them how to handle situations, we make their world bigger, and let them figure out how to do stuff so they can build those skills that will transfer into wherever their path takes them.
I want to talk to everyone here for like three hours!
This interview process is actually coming at the right time as we are re-visiting our vision and mission statement. We have this group of teachers who started this place and worked incredibly hard to plan and think through everything. A lot of forethought went into the culture we wanted to maintain in the building and the kind of diversity we wanted, and how we would build that. We spent two years creating a vision statement, and every word, every inflection in every word, has deep meaning for us.
We added a grade each year and we’re on our fifth graduating class, which means the staff has gotten bigger. We’ve gotten amazing, amazing teachers who have joined for whom that vision statement doesn’t mean to them what it means to us. So we don’t necessarily understand the problems in the same way.
So for the last year plus, faculty meetings have been kind of crazy. When we think we have a simple issue but there’s deep philosophical underpinnings the staff has that create the lens through which we see it. For example, we had a fiasco around the hat policy. I think it comes from that we don’t understand what lens we’re all looking through. We’re trying to come up with a solution before we understand what the foundation of our beliefs are. It will be interesting because in the next couple of weeks I’m going to try to lay out on Monday that there’s an elephant in the room and norms have gone out the window because people are really passionate and it’s coming out in not nice ways and we need to get our culture where it needs to be.
It made me think – when you say we need to RE-ENVISIONED, we need to re-envision SLCSE.
I love how you’re saying that it’s constantly evolving. It’s not that you do it once and then you’re done. It’s this constantly moving target and each new person who comes in and each new idea matters. And many organizations deal with this – how do you have a culture that evolves with growth.
This is my first year – fourth week – as an administrator.
Thank you. The founding principal conceptualized this place and was a real binding figure. When he left there was a period of mourning and created a vacuum and then we started to really see the different lenses take effect. His vision is what this whole place is based on, so when he was here it was the direction in which it went. But then other visions came out, not that that’s bad, but it brings up things we have to figure out.
Overall, the educators I’ve been privileged to work with here are more thoughtful – not just one or two – but as a whole, are thoughtful about the little things it takes to build the community we have. It’s beautiful.
You should write down some of those things you all do and how you think about it! People are looking for ways to do this in their schools and in the world.