The school year recently came to an end and for some that meant it was time to get out of Dodge, en route to Destin and all points south of it, for a long-awaited and well-deserved break. For others, there are a few loose ends to tie up before leaving- or staying put- and embracing the summer break after another busy, sometimes chaotic, yet rewarding ten months of teaching. But whether you hopped into a car destined for sun and sand at 3:01 pm (after the final bell of the year rang at 3:00 pm!) or you decided to delay the start of your vacation one thing is certain: an evaluation of this past school year has already begun. For parents, teachers and administrators the end of a school year brings with it the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what did not, whose work was on point and whose needs a bit of sharpening. It is the chance to reflect on how lives were changed for the better and what improvements can, and should, be made to bring out the best in those we know are capable of better but just haven’t gotten their breakthrough yet. At Bodine School in Memphis, this time of reflection and retrospect is accompanied by concrete markers that demonstrate schools aren’t meant to be merely a place of and for education but are safe havens wherein children can thrive far beyond expectations when their success is not determined solely by test scores but rooted in whole person growth and learning.
An independent school for students in grades 1-6 who have been diagnosed with dyslexia and other reading-related difficulties, Bodine provides each student with the unique and individualized instruction necessary for a successful stay, which averages three years. Numbers prove what they do, works: within one year students’ reading fluency grows (leaps!) from the 7th to the 32nd percentile. Attitudes and behaviors prove how they do what they do, works: a young girl in 3rd grade who had stopped eating regularly because of the stress she encountered prior to enrolling at Bodine has gained ten pounds since her enrollment and continues to eat well; a young boy who’d been teased at his previous school told his teacher when he arrived here he felt “broken” and within weeks told that same teacher “I wish I could stay here the rest of my life.”
This is how they do it.
Teachers like Sara Hill embrace each student’s individuality and create teaching guidelines based on such. A binder filled with pages that list challenges and successes encountered daily provide the framework for what the next day’s teaching will be for her students. She is aware that though the desired outcome is the same for all, the path is different for every, single one of them. “It is a special calling to teach here” she shares, explaining that there is no book or curriculum that can be applied “as-is” to each child. Hill must adapt and improvise, knowing that there will be many steps forward but, occasionally, also a step back. When this happens she pulls out the binder and uses her documented discoveries in daily one-on-one blocks with her students so that none are left behind. She and the other teachers and staff at Bodine are given this space and time to do what’s best under the leadership of a person who believes that everyone who walks through Bodine’s doors must be encouraged and embraced.
Head of School John Murphy joined the Bodine family with more than twenty five years of previous experience as an education administrator and has applied the wisdom and knowledge acquired during this period to enhancing the lives of both students and staff. He credits the unusually successful growth of the students to the culture of the school, wherein everyone works together under a very clear, singular mission. He believes that at the core of that mission is a desire to “help as much and give as much as we possibly can.” Because approximately 70% of children with a learning disability also show signs of anxiety, Murphy is a vocal advocate of the aforementioned whole person learning. “I enjoyed, took pride in and loved working with boys who had challenges,” he says of his administrative role prior to Bodine, and believes in accepting each student as they are, working diligently to help them grow into the best version of their unique selves. “I want our children to have the edge forging forward” he affirms.
So as we parents enjoy our summer days and reflect on what this past year meant for our children and students, we can take comfort in knowing there are teachers such as Sara Hill, administrators such as John Murphy and educational environments such as the Bodine School providing our children the time and space in which to flourish academically, socially and emotionally. Our Memphis community is made up of many like them who are there for our children day after day, giving far beyond their “official” job descriptions. For that, I say thank you.