Paul McCormickTwitter: @McCormickEduc8rDear Parents, or Prospective Parents,
What a great opportunity for you and your children to consider this program. As you make this decision, please know that we are here to answer questions and discuss your specific situation.
Let me briefly share my story with you. I was born and raised in State College. I have a relatively non-traditional path to teaching and working in schools. After earning a law and a masters degree in Seattle, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work as a budget and policy analyst—thinking that impacting change in our world was best done on a large scale. I soon came to learn that this was not true for me. Rather, I returned to my passion of teaching—which I had done as a teaching assistant at Penn State and during Law School. I entered an alternate route certification program while teaching underserved elementary kids in Camden, New Jersey, where I taught early childhood literacy and math. After two years in Camden, I was presented with the opportunity to open a middle school bridge program for the Milton Hershey School. For three years, I wore several “hats” in this program: Algebra and Social Studies teacher, housefather, recreation leader, social skills developer, and small learning community leader. We had a staff of 19 that delivered this program for about 80 adolescent boys and girls. It was one of the best experiences of my life—most of all because I had the opportunity to meet my wife there—but also because the relationships built with students were rich and enduring, and because the program was innovative and unique, challenging the status quo.
Upon the closing of this program in Hershey, my wife and I returned to the Philadelphia area to work in the burgeoning charter movement, where I taught middle school math. However, I felt my development in education was still lacking. And so, I became a doctoral student in education at the University of Pennsylvania with an emphasis on teaching, learning, and leadership. During my time at “Penn,” I mentored beginning teachers, consulted for independent schools wresting with school culture issues, conducted large scale research projects, and taught in several of Penn’s Masters of Education programs. My dissertation is entitled, "Leadership in a Democratic School" and was published in Fall 2017.
Three specific themes drew me to a unique program like Delta: 1) Belonging in a small community; 2) Democratic principles of school governance, and; 3) Teachers working from their passions.
Belonging. We emphasized this piece repeatedly for adolescents at Milton Hershey, along with the principles of Mastery (of any skill); Generosity (to others); and Independence (of thought, decision-making). These themes are important for us all, but they are especially important for young middle school age students. If there is one theme that I have heard from Delta students as well as graduates, it is that they felt they belonged here—almost right from the start. Upon visiting, a question children might ask themselves could be: Do I feel a sense of belonging here from students and staff? If so, this can be an important indicator for you and your child in choosing Delta.
Democratic Principles. During my consulting work with Independent Schools throughout the northeast, I have come to learn that the best schools are ones that listen to the experiences of their students. While the old adage, “The pupils do not run the school” may be popular, in my experience I have come to learn that this is not true. In fact, the students should have a hand in running the school and determining what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, and the nature of the culture in their school. Effective, supportive, and enriching school cultures are ones that are partly owned and operated by not just students, but also parents.
Teacher & Student Intrinsic Motivations. Standards are important. And measuring is, too. But sometimes the standards and testing cycle do not work for everyone, teachers included. When teachers can creatively imagine classes that encounter the academic standards along the way, and not necessarily teach to the test, this can create classroom environments alive with activity and intrinsic motivation from the teacher and student, alike. Delta students also talk about how they perceive that their teachers are teaching content close to their heart—which is important for our kids to witness. As adults, our passion for learning can be a model from which our students learn. I believe it inspires students to ask their own questions—and I invite these questions in my classes.
I also invite your conversations and feedback. After all, the democratic process is borne from conversation, feedback, and yes—conflict!
I think you will find that the Delta Middle School Program is one in which you can actively be involved as a parent, your children will experience a sense of belonging, and the teachers with whom your children engage are approaching each day with energy and passion.