Give Kids Real Jobs
At the end of every school day in 7th grade, it was my job to clean the erasers in the Math classroom. Believe it or not, this assignment wasn't punishment for some infraction, but a duty I had specifically asked for. I craved being useful, doing something that would contribute to my community and earn the praise of my teachers. Cleaning erasers was the only job they could think of for me to do. So, every day after class I dutifully showed up at the Math teacher's door, piled up all the erasers and went outside to bang them on the ground until they were clean, coughing through the clouds of chalk dust.
When I enrolled at Alpine Valley School two years later, I looked at the list of available Clerkships (as elucidated in the Lawbook) and my eyes grew wide. My heart leapt as I read about jobs like Grounds Clerk (caring for the school grounds), Building Maintenance Clerk (caring for the building itself), Elections Clerk (handling all electoral functions at school) and so forth. These were important positions that contributed to the well-being of the school and I could nominate myself for any one of them. Some, like Building Maintenance Clerk, I was clearly unqualified for as a fourteen year-old who was much better at banging my finger with a hammer than actually pounding a nail. But others, like School Meeting Chairman, or Judicial Clerk, were a natural fit. My first year at AVS I nominated myself for many positions, and was elected to nearly all of them by School Meeting. Then the real work began.
Thursday was School Meeting. As Chairman of the meeting, it was my job to ensure that signs were posted announcing the event, and to set up the room appropriately. In addition, I had to run the meeting itself and make sure that things stayed on track. This meant studying up on Roberts Rules of Order, which is how School Meeting is organized. This also meant that I had to keep track of my schedule so I knew when School Meeting was approaching and did not forget to show up for my job. I started using a calendar to stay on top of deadlines and associated tasks. I was, I think, a model employee of School Meeting, though I certainly had my share of late attendances and shoddy work. But I relished my jobs, and I cared deeply about the work I was doing and how it affected the community. Better yet, I could see the effects of my effort in my day-to-day life.
The work I did was important to myself and the community, and seemed a far cry from banging erasers together.
There are lots of kids out there who want to make a real contribution. They crave roles that have meaning, responsibility, and autonomy. And, perhaps the best part, they can screw up over and over again (as I certainly did) without major consequences. Alpine Valley School is a safe place to figure out what you like to do by trying out all sorts of real jobs, and what you don't like to do, by occasionally falling down on those real jobs. Judicial Committee gives students a taste for their future assignment to a jury trial. School Meeting teaches them civic engagement, and the power a citizen has to directly impact their community. Corporations and Committees teach leadership, organization, and communication. And Clerkships (like the ones I mentioned above) roll up all of these benefits into a single role that has real impact on both the school and the student.
I gained an enormous amount of confidence through my jobs at Alpine Valley School and when I look around at the students holding School Meeting office today I can see the same sense of pride I once took in doing real work at school.