Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 337- Academic Lab

Academic Lab is something that I first learned of last year.  I'm not sure if it's something that they have everywhere now or if it's just in this area, but it's basically what you get when homeroom and study hall meet and have a baby.  It is a semi-short period at the end of the day where all kinds of things happen- announcements, homework, progress reports and checking grades, silent reading, catch up work, etc., etc., etc.

Ac Lab is a complete and total frenzy.  There are always a million things going on and  a million kids needing to go other places while a million others need to come see me.  The frenzy is compounded by the fact that I somehow ended up with an island of misfits of sorts in my room for that class.  My Ac Lab kids are kings and queens of missing assignments, absences, bus detentions, chattiness, broken limbs, trips to the nurse, and issues in general.  There are days when I have to tell them that if they are not bleeding or on fire, they should step away from my desk.  This usually results in only about half of them going back to their seats.  It's like that.

Every day as I read announcements, I realize more and more that I have this group of... um, "interesting" kids.  I try to weed through all of the many announcements to find those that pertain to my group in order to get them to the homework time they so desperately need that much faster.  Do I need to read the robotics announcement?  Anybody in robotics?  Nope?  Ok.  NJHS?  They shake their heads.  StuCo, newspaper, yearbook?  No?  Ok... what are you in?  Blank looks and shaking heads follow.  Alright, let's work on homework then and check your grades.

All that being said, I adore my Ac Lab.  They are quirky and silly and sweet and friendly and all kinds of good things.  They are a class full of little projects, and they are with me for a reason.  These are kids I see two times a day, and I really feel responsible for them, my little cubs.  I want them to succeed and to hand in that missing work and to join things and to develop good study skills.  They're all my little Ac Lab Ferris, after all. 

We have had a big can drive going on at school for the past few weeks to collect for our local food bank before the holidays.  My Ac Lab usually has a lackluster performance in this type of arena.  For spirit and dress up days, I told them recently that they make me feel as if I am the only girl at the party wearing a costume.  I go all out and dress up for everything, and one or two of them (if that) join me. I was bound and determined to push them.  We had a running joke that we would all have mustaches for school pictures and checked in daily on our progress.  I gave them stickers for dressing up on some of the other days.  We took third place in the team building competition and cheered for each other and did a big go team huddle at the end.  I shared pictures of my dog and the occasional funny story (which both, surprisingly enough, work as a reward to keep them quiet).  I got them plastic fangs for Halloween and let them be goofy for a few minutes that day.  I'm pretty sure these simple gestures have led many of them who don't have a whole lot to decide that they'd walk through fire for me.  They are fiercely loyal.

When this can competition started, I told them that it was time to step up their game.  There was an ice cream party up for grabs for each grade level winner, and I was bound and determined to get them to earn this for themselves.  I made them a deal that I would match every two cans that they brought in with one of my own.  At the end of the first week, we only had eight total.  I did not relent.  I kept reminding them of our deal and the ice cream party.  We had a huge surge in cans in the last two days, and I think it was because they wanted to see if I would keep my word, even as the number of cans grew and grew.

Have you guessed how this one ends yet?

I got the e-mail this afternoon during my plan period that we had made it to 109 cans, and we were the winners of the eighth grade.  My kids.  I was so excited that I ran out into the hallway to see if there was anyone to share the news with.  There wasn't, of course, so I jumped up, pumped my fists in victory by myself, and circled back into my room.  I reread the e-mail to make sure that I was not mistaken.  I wasn't.  The ice cream party and the W are all ours.

I kept the kids in suspense until the very end of the day because I was worried that the announcement would get them all hyper, and I wanted to make sure that we got in some quality work time first.  Silly me.  It took some time to get them settled in anyway because it's Friday and none of the core teachers gave homework for the weekend.  When it came time to make the announcement, one of them was brushing her teeth in the back (not even kidding) while another did the robot and his math homework.  Ohhhhh, Ac Lab.  As I finally spilled the news, they were filled with the pride and joy that I so hoped to see from them at some point this year.  They responded by dancing in the aisles of my room, swinging their arms in unison and casting glances my way to see my reaction.  "She's laughing!  She's laughing!"  The small group of dancers grew into almost the entire class.  I love winning.

I'm sure that the ice cream party next week will make me want to pull my hair out.  Yet, I'm also sure that I am so proud of my eccentric little group of lovelies.  I might even lay off of them about their grades for a day.

Or not.  I'd love for that to be our next victory.  For now, I'll probably have to settle for the fact that none of them have broken any bones or received a detention in the past month, all of them have learned how to at least pretend to do their homework quietly (over half of them are actually working!), and some of them who were previously disinterested in just about everything are now eager to please.  One of them was even recently elected president of a club and acted in the play tonight.  Upswing!

Thank you, Ac Lab, you made my day.

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