Sometimes "I can’t" really means "it takes more than I am willing to try.” On Wednesday, August 2, the White House Blog featured a story about Citizen Schools and its unique model for engaging America’s youth in STEM education.
This story has two layers. The first is about Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, Massachusetts, which people believed could not be fixed. The second is about that school's current principal, who was told his son would never walk.
The world is full of “can’t.” Schools like the Edwards can’t be turned around, and children like Liam can’t walk. Why bother trying? Principal Leo Flanagan doesn't accept “can’t.”
Edwards Middle School and Citizen Schools launched Expanded Learning Time (ELT) together a few years before Flanagan became principal. The extra time allowed for more academic support and apprenticeships—where kids work alongside volunteer engineers, computer programmers, web designers, and more. The kids build skills and dreams, and the school blossoms. Five years after launching ELT, Edwards Middle School is now one of the top performing schools in the district.
Flanagan inspired change at home as well. Every day he helped his son learn to walk. Every difficult step was one step closer to success. Today his son not only walks, but runs on steady, strong legs.
Principal Flanagan's world is full of “can." His students can achieve and succeed, a child can walk despite the odds. Flanagan says, “Sometimes, when you have a kid who ‘can’t do things’ it really means 'what it takes for them to do it is more than I am willing to try'.”
"I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering," says the president. "To encourage young people to create and build and invent—to be makers of things, not just consumers of things."
But kids growing up in poor communities live in the world of "can't." They don’t have the same opportunities as kids growing up where engineers and scientists and inventors are abundant.
As Principal Flanagan says, “It takes an engineer at an engineering firm to get them to believe that they, too, belong there and they can do whatever they want to do.”
Together, we can show them that they can. When STEM professionals and other successful adults enter their world through Citizen Schools, they do.