A lesson plan based on “School pride” from the March-April 2008 issue of L.A. Youth, in which Jo’Visha McGee wrote about how she thinks her new school, which emphasizes small class sizes and discipline, has helped her learn more.

By Mike Fricano, editor

Grades: 7-12

Subjects: Language Arts, Life Skills

Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

Overview: Students will identify what makes a school a good learning environment and ways to make their schools better.

• copies of the L.A. Youth article “A better school” (one per student)
• pens/pencils and paper
• white board or black board

Warm-up discussion:
Ask the students why an education is important and write the answers on the board. They might say to get into college, to get a good job, to contribute to society, to learn things or to be a better person. After writing the list, ask the students what a school should have to provide a good environment for learning. Write down their answers to this question in a separate space. They could say: good teachers, small class sizes, working computers, new books, a safe environment or quiet classrooms.
    Now discuss with the students whether their school provides the environment, materials and resources that they just said a school ought to.

Reading: Ask your students to read the article, “A better school” by Jo’Visha on page 19.
As a discussion or as a written assignment, ask students to answer the following questions about Jo’Visha’s article:

What did Jo’Visha think needed improvement at her old school?
• The classes had too many students.
• The administrators didn’t enforce the dress code.
• There was gum under the desks.
• There weren’t enough textbooks.
• The textbooks had tagging in them.
• The students didn’t get enough homework.
• There were too many fights.

How did the conditions at her old school affect Jo’Visha?
• She didn’t feel like paying attention or learning.
• She talked in class too.
• Her grades started to drop because she didn’t do her homework.

How are things different at her new school?
• The school is stricter with the dress code and gum chewing.
• There are new books for every student.
• The classes are smaller.
• The teachers assign more homework.

Why does Jo’Visha think that a stricter school is good?
• She’s learning more because the students behave and teachers can spend time teaching. For example, she can speak in sentences in Spanish class.
• A challenging school will better prepare her for college.
• She’s given more homework and more challenging homework, which mean she’s learning more.

Do students think that they would do well in a strict environment like Jo’Visha’s school?  Why or why not? How does Jo’Visha’s school compare to theirs? Do they want their school to be more like her new one? Why or why not?

Have students write a letter to their school’s principal describing ways that they would like to see their school improved. Use Jo’Visha’s story and how she uses specific examples to support her statements as a model so that their letters can maximize their persuasiveness.

Extension activity:
Using the letters to the principal as a basis, invite the principal to the classroom to discuss the students’ suggestions. Organize a meeting at the school among students, teachers, administrators and district officials to discuss ways to improve the school.