Each of the students I teach has a gripe from time to time, and they are not shy about voicing it. One which I have heard often is about a video that maybe part of one of the courses they are working through. A student will raise their hand or call out to me. When I come over to them they will point to the screen of their laptop and say something like, “This video is 40 minutes long, do I have to watch the whole thing?”
I have a stock answer: “No you don’t have to watch it. You can go back to your old high school and sit in a class for 45 minutes every school day from September until June and earn your credit that way.”
They usually watch the video.
In traditional New York high schools, students spend four years earning the forty-four credits required for graduation. In Bronx Arena, the same number of credits are required, but how long it takes to earn them is up to the student. Some of my students have labored for months with a one-credit course and not yet completed it. Yet another student completed a global studies course in just over five weeks. And he watched the video.
I have students who love to do math, but hate social studies. Some fly through an English Language Arts course but can never show up for gym. They have to complete eight credits of ELA and four credits of gym. There will be no diploma until they have them all, a fact I constantly stress.
With just two months left in the school year I have been pressing my kids to finish courses they have started. They often tell me that they don’t like the course or find it boring. “Doesn’t matter,” I tell them. “If you want to finish high school you have to do the things you like and the things you don’t like.”
I often use my weekly trip between the Bronx and my home in upstate as an example. I tell them that by the end of the week all I can think about is being home. When the school day is finished on Friday, I get in my car and drive the miles from Bronx Arena to my home. There are parts of the trip I enjoy, but also parts I loathe. Getting out of the Bronx and north of the immediate suburbs is stressful on a Friday afternoon. Then the drive becomes more civil and scenic. The attitude of drivers and the enveloping landscape both change.
Farther north, when I have crossed the Hudson River, I enter a stretch of state highway that is punctuated with traffic lights, and my progress slows. By then, my yearning to be home is an ache, and fatigue has settled in. But after a while I reach the turn-off for the state route that will take me the last miles to home.
Then there will be one last traffic light, after which I drive onto my home road. The last few miles take me past neighboring farms, a twist and a turn, and then the first view of home I have had in a week.
The lesson I am trying to teach my students is that every journey we take is made up of miles we love and miles which challenge. Okay, miles we hate. But if we want to get home, if we want a diploma, we have to travel every one of them.