Op-Ed: What school am I at?

November 30, 2016


“But Mrs. P!”

I hear this phrase multiple times a day from exasperated scholars. Usually it’s in response to me asking scholars to take off hoodies, stop computer games and Netflix streaming, or stay in the classroom versus wandering the halls.

When I started at The ASK Academy a few years ago, I was excited to witness and help cultivate the ASK Attitude. My last teaching job was at a public high school in rural Virginia, where I frequently wrote referrals for excessive obscene language, drugs, damage to school property, and skipping class. Our school claims to be different in attitude and behavior of students. However, I have written more referrals for students at ASK than my previous school, and for the exact same reasons.

Interestingly, a previous manager wrote to The Catalyst in November 2013 about scholars not living up to the ASK Attitude. Comments from scholars on that article echoed the sentiment that the ASK Attitude was being lost. One commenter stated, “All I can say is ‘I agree.’ This really is disgraceful…”  

In 2016, we have the same problem. Over my three years at ASK, I’ve noticed ASK Attitude declining, with this year standing out from the others.  I have been absolutely astounded at the lack of respect I’ve witnessed this year to people and property. We moved into a beautiful, pristine building. Normal wear and tear over the years is expected, but we haven’t even lived here one full year and the damage is obvious. The railing has paint peeled off; walls all over are scratched and dinged; holes in walls have been punched and patched; and the poor boys’ bathroom cannot catch a break from vandalism. In the past, I’ve prided myself on having fun and engaging teaching tools in my room (ie- medical related toys), but have put them all away due to theft and destruction of my own personal property. I frequently get updated information from administration, managers, and scholars as to which scholars to keep an extra watch on. And of course, we have the recent social media ban that stemmed from more extreme breaches of the ASK Handbook, technology policy, and certainly the ASK Attitude.

In her 2013 article, manager Karen Pierce mentioned feeling like she worked in an elementary school. I have thought this multiple times this semester, and that our school climate with the ASK Attitude feels no different than other public schools. It now closely resembles my previous school.

A group of seniors noticed a change in the school’s climate and decided to conduct an investigation for their Research in Action project.  An anonymous survey sent to the scholars has revealed interesting results from the 163 responses. English (21.5%) and math (20.9%) are the favored subjects, while science (6.7%), biomedical science (12.3%), and “other” (9.2%) were least favorite. History and engineering were in the middle at 14.1% and 15.3%, respectively. The main reason for attending ASK is a “dislike of public school education” (41.1%), followed by an interest in engineering (34.4%), and parents forcing their students (27.6%). For things to improve about the school, many scholars wrote about the loss of the ASK attitude. This answer was only second to an interest in changing the dress code.  One senior wrote that many scholars are not interested in putting in the minimum work for the classes offered. Several other scholars echoed  that sentiment and feel many peers do not put forth effort in their classes and that the school should have some sort of entrance exam to ensure students are serious about course work. A sophomore wrote, “This school could be brilliant but all of the little rules and regulations made for those who don’t care about our pathways really ruin it for the rest of us.”  Another mentioned being distracted by scholars who don’t care about education.

Another common theme was on character, attitude, and trust. Specifically that it has been lost and needs to be revived. A senior stated that ASK has “lost sight of its original values and fundamentals that it grew from.” Another said, “We used to have respect for each other and the managers. We used to have more freedoms, and less disciplinary violations. I miss the ASK Academy that trusted in the scholars’ best intentions.” Unfortunately the freedoms and trust have gone away because too often scholars no longer have the best of intentions.

Granted, there are many scholars at ASK with great attitudes who are incredibly trustworthy and responsible, maintaining the best of intentions. There are even a few scholars I trust to watch my two year old son or get items from my vehicle. We have scholars who are out in the community doing amazing things through service, jobs, and internships. Unfortunately, the conduct of the scholars acting out has been so serious that new rules and standards have to be applied to the school as a whole, without regard to whether individual scholars engaged in the conduct that made the new rules and standards necessary.  I am confident that most of you do not look at porn in the middle of class, don’t cheat, don’t destroy bathroom doors, or flat out ask a manager for a zero on work. As Pierce wrote in reference to group discipline, “You want the hall passes to go away? Well I want my professional working environment back.”  The administration and managers have been put in a tough spot by scholars acting out. As infractions increase, we feel the need to increase discipline.

The problem of the slipping ASK Attitude is one of scholar culture. The scholar culture is “going bad.”  To help change the culture, scholars need to take responsibility for it,  elevate it, and protect it. One way to change the attitude environment is for the scholars to manage each other. Large companies have whole departments dedicated to employee morale. Perhaps scholars could form a committee to encourage the ASK Attitude.

Consider respectively talking to a peer if you see them commit any of the following acts that I’ve personally witnessed or heard of happening this semester:

  • blatant dress code violations such as habitual hats, tight yoga pants, sagging pants, and my personal favorite of hoodie with sweat pants with slippers
  • obscene and crude language with the “f-bomb” being a favorite
  • skipping class and wandering the halls every period
  • making out in the hallways
  • taking supplies from a class without asking
  • cheating
  • destroying manager or scholar personal property
  • trash and gross food residue left in the commons, microwaves, and sinks
  • doing drugs in the bathroom or behind the building or anywhere else
  • coming to school high
  • driving off campus during lunch to get high
  • gaming,  gaming, and more gaming
  • visiting inappropriate websites
  • bragging about getting around the newest network safeguards
  • cell phone addiction that constantly interferes with class work
  • shocking continued vandalism to the boys’ bathroom
  • a new level of apathy for school work
  • disrespect and immaturity during school wide health programs
  • snapchatting scholars and managers in negative ways and sending it to people during class
  • scholars inappropriately talking about managers behind their back, or to their faces

Let me be clear, not all responsibility lies with the scholars.  We managers need to be more consistent with enforcement and consequences as well as promoting the ASK Attitude. Extra vigilance on our end can positively affect the school climate. Managers and administration could also facilitate positive communication with ASK regarding regulations, behavior, and attitude. Now that we are settled into the new building, I hope we can focus more on excellent education instead of trying to manage the intricacies of policies. This is always a struggle to find the right balance, and we must re-evaluate our own actions often. Every day, I purposely try to be fair,  consistent, and to promote the ASK Attitude. We recently celebrated ASK values in our wonderful Thanksgiving tradition. Let’s continue in this spirit.

One anonymous comment from 2013 stated, “How else can we be one of the greatest schools in the state if we cannot regulate ourselves? …we need to get our ASK Attitude back! That means we will have to learn to regulate ourselves and not point fingers!”  This is still true today. I wrote this article in hopes of starting an honest and reflective conversation that will lead to positive action. We must all work together to revive the ASK Attitude.

Danielle Plomaritas

Biomedical Science Project Manager


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One Comment on “Op-Ed: What school am I at?”

  1. Jesse Gallegos Says:

    Half of my classes have an environment comparable to a zoo, due to the impossible-to-stop conversations and the obvious disrespect for the manager. I personally think every manager should be equipped with an airhorn. On another note, I’m unfortunately guilty of committing some of the wrong-doings listed, and plan to better myself next year. I can only hope others do the same.


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