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Column: Schools prove eye-opening

School's still cool.

That's the impression I've gotten over the last few weeks, anyway.

I've been sitting in on classes at Perham schools for our 'One Hour With...' weekly series on education, and I have to say, it's been a total blast.

My 'fun meter' has shot up into the red zone during every hour I've spent in a classroom, talking with kids and teachers and getting a first-hand feel for the day's lesson.

I didn't expect it to be that much fun, honestly.

With all the negative rap we all hear about 'kids today,' and 'teachers today,' and 'the state of education today,' I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew it couldn't be as bad as all that, but I hadn't actually sat in on a whole class for more than 10 years - not since I was a student myself.

So I dipped my toes back into the school waters a little warily. But you know what I learned? That the water's just fine. And by only my second or third assignment, I was jumping right in.

I've sat in on classes at the elementary, middle and high school, learning right along with the students for an hour, about whatever it was they happened to be learning about that day. One day I sat in on a Rock Band class at the high school and got to dance along to one of my favorite songs - "Footloose." Another day I was inspired by middle school students who said they'd stand up to bullying.

My learning experiences have been a little different from those of the students, of course. In addition to learning their lessons for the day, I've also been learning about them - about what makes them tick, about the kinds of things they like to learn about, and about the ways in which they like to learn. I've also learned what goes on in classrooms today - what issues are important, what technologies are used, and what teaching techniques are popular.

In my brief but eye-opening time in the Perham schools, here's what I learned about 'kids today': They'll surprise you.

In my experience, the kids here are not at all like the stereotypes suggest. (I won't even go into what those stereotypes are; we all know them.)

Students in the schools here are friendly. They smile and say 'hi' to me in the halls - even if we've never met before. And on the rare occasions I've been spotted roaming around the high school like a tourist without a map (okay, maybe not so rare, I have a terrible sense of direction), students have actually stopped and asked if they could help me find something.


That is not the kind of helpful behavior one expects from 'kids today.'

And here's what I learned about 'teachers today': They're inspiring.

I've watched teachers relate with their students in nothing but positive ways - laughing with them, enjoying their company, respecting them, and challenging them.

The teachers I've seen have worked hard to make their classes interesting and memorable for the kids, and have gone out of their way to utilize and encourage the talents of their students. They seem to have endless energy and a true enthusiasm for what they do.

They've been more than willing to welcome me into their classrooms - they want people to know about the good things going on in local schools.

And here's what I've learned about 'the state of education today': Whatever can be said about the problems around the world, nation and state, none of that's stopping students here from having meaningful learning experiences.

There are challenges in education today, no doubt: High class sizes, underfunding, rapid changes to technology, parental involvement (too much and too little), and pressure to teach to the test, to name just a few.

Yet there are no dark clouds hovering ominously over our schools. Schools are still standing, students still succeeding. More than that, kids and teachers talk, joke, laugh, and learn. From what I've seen, they respect each other, even inspire each other.

In my book, that's a pretty good 'state' for education to be in.