September 8, 2008

September 8, 2008

Dear LoMA Family,


This is a big year for LoMA. After four years of planning and growing we are now at capacity with just over 300 students and 35 staff members. I am especially excited about our first graduating class. Every senior has passed all of their academic classes and nearly all of them have passed all of their required Regents. Now they are all around the city learning in high end internships at some of the best arts organizations and businesses in the city. Our juniors are adapting to the rigors of the toughest year of high school, and the sophomores have really matured since the last year as evidenced by their focus and engagement in their classes. Likewise, our freshmen are quickly rising to our high expectations in behavior and academics. As a result of everyone’s effort, our attendance rate is hitting 90%, latenesses are down dramatically and homework completion is fantastic. I’m very impressed with the level of scholarship, effort and concentration I’m seeing around the school.

The trick now is how to sustain this level of achievement throughout the year. Old teachers like me know that in some ways this is a “honeymoon period.” September is a time of renewal and hope and the first week or two generally brings in the best work by students. Unfortunately, sometimes, students are unable to sustain this good behavior. They miss a homework one day, come back late from lunch another day or do poorly on a test. They begin to fall in to a cycle of failure and give up.

Aristotle said that excellence is not an act but a habit. Think about the difference between an act and a habit. One or two great weeks of schoolwork will not lead to excellent grades. Students must get into a habit of scholarship and responsibility if they are to achieve excellence, and if they have already formed negative habits, it is so much harder to create positive ones. Ms. Garfield always says that it takes 20 days to break a habit. That is why these first weeks are so important. Nearly all of LoMA’s students are now acting in ways that will lead to excellence. It is vital that these acts continue long enough to become self-reinforcing habits. Here are some of the good habits I’ve seen LoMA students develop recently:

  • Student are recording their homework in their planners (and completing it!). One of the leading reasons students don’t complete homework is that they forget it. Students who write it in an organized fashion everyday are much more likely to complete it.
  • Students are getting into advisory by 8:30. There will always be train delays, so the only reason to keep them from ruining your morning (and lunch) is to plan on getting to school earlier than absolutely required.
  • In every class students seem to have their books out, are taking notes and paying attention. Research shows that students who sit up tall and look at a speaker learn much more efficiently than students who have their head down or spend class looking around.
  • I hear good questions from students in the classes. I think that a better measure of how well a class is going is the quality of questions that students ask rather than what a teacher says or asks. Ideally, I‘d like every kid to ask an intelligent question in every class – it shows that they are thinking.

Aristotle explained that it is very difficult to change habits. He compared it to bending back a warped board. We have to overextend in the opposite direction if we want to make the board straight. If a student is coming to school with bad habits, he needs to try to become an awesome student every day until the positive habit takes hold. So far I see that happening. Teachers and friends can help the process by noticing and specifically complimenting good behavior. In the end, though, good behavior should be its own reward. LoMA’s students should feel positive about the start they have made to this school year, and I’m proud of them.


Keep your focus,

John Wenk