There have been 6 sessions of high school Sr. ‘Final Words’ at Casco Bay High School, an Expeditionary Learning public high school in Portland, Maine in the last 2 weeks (many, including our 15 & 17 yr.old, came from King as featured in this PBS newshour recently, an EL middle school). There are about 60 students in this sr. class. I was lucky enough to witness the last 8 or so speak this morning. Each student has 5-10 minutes behind the microphone. They gave their words in what CBHS calls the ‘great space’ – a big room surrounded by classroom doors with country names on them and dark blue fabric curtain dividers pulled around metal folding chairs filled with peers, teachers, and families – a place that was familiar and comfortable to them.
What these 18 year olds talked about was as individual as each person, and this school does indeed reflect the diversity of Portland. There were earnest stories about overcoming challenges and waking up in the last four years; or about a particular moment, pulled apart by recognition of its worth and meaning; one talked about his connection to earth, fire, water, air, with beautiful metaphors to meaningful experiences and an unknowable future. There was a young women who, with grace and humility talked about her understanding of the cost of her own self-doubt. Another understood that his artistic talent represented a gift that he couldn’t ignore and that it wasn’t a bad thing that this and dancing is all he lives for because he recognizes he has talent, tenacity, and focus. (I take it academics didn’t go so well…) After each student spoke, a classmate then a teacher said a few words about each person, or some aspect of their learning and challenges. They told a small story that underscored that They. Were. Seen. No one spoke with language that was in code, no one overly simplified their expressions that left questions, challenges, or recognitions of the next step out of the CBHS environment. I think the audience became invisible to the speakers since they were truly inside of the Final Words they gave.
Bravo to those staff and faculty of this amazing place of learning and growth.