This is the era of Mega Churches but a growing trend in contemporary education is the rise of Mega Schools. These are schools with 4,000+ students which offer advanced collegiate credits and extensive career platforms.
Duncanville High School in Duncanville, TX (a suburb of Dallas) is one of the largest public High Schools in America. The school’s enrollment is near 5,000 students and the campus infrastructure mirrors a college campus. It spans numerous blocks with more than 300 faculty members. The school has 12 Principals. The facility is so massive the students are allowed 7-10 minutes between classes.
Within 30 seconds on the campus, my wife and I immediately felt the pride of the students and a winning spirit in the atmosphere. It was Pep Rally Day. Their Varsity, JV, and Freshmen teams are all undefeated.
We met, Tia Simmons, the Executive Principal, but she didn’t have to do much to accommodate us. It was all organized and mapped out. She is running a well-oiled machine and everything around her seemed progressive and prosperous. Her staff members are excited about their roles within this beautiful educational community. Her students are well- disciplined and elated to serve their institution.
It felt more like we were touring a small town than visiting a school. When she stepped in the hall, which actually felt like walking through a shopping mall, the students ran to hug her. She is the Mayor of this town and the citizens love her.
A patrol of student leaders led us to the Shrine Performance Auditorium where a large group of CTE students awaited our arrival. Their Career Technical Education is one of nearly 20 programs the school facilitates to foster immediate career paths for their students. They offer CNA, Engineering, Culinary Arts, Theatrical Arts, Medical Coding and Billing, Pharmacy, and many other career based programs where the students earn a College credit in High School.
I spoke to the students about ‘Believing In Yourself When Nobody Else Believes In You’ using Milton Hershey’s life story as the root of the message. Mr. Hershey began his first candy business at age 19. He failed in his hometown but moved to Philadelphia to try it again. He failed in Philadelphia but tried it again in Denver. He failed in Denver but tried it again in New York. He failed in New York. Upon moving back to his hometown in Pennsylvania it finally succeeded.
When his candy business finally made profit, Hersey then comes up with this wild idea to leave the caramel business and make chocolate. Everyone thought he was crazy because chocolate was a luxury of the wealthy in that era. However, he followed his intuition and started a small chocolate factory in that town. As the story evolves, he found a way to make billions from a recipe he created adding milk to chocolate. Today, we get Hershey Bars, Kisses, Mr. Goodbar, Almond Joy, Whoppers, Krackel, and so many other famous candies because of his peristence and commitment to his vision.
The students responded overwhelmingly throughout the whole lecture but it’s not surprising if you know what kind of students we were dealing with.
Just four years ago, the entire student body staged a protest for the right to a Free Dress Code. The students felt uniforms depreciated their sense of individuality. They staged their concern with facts, research, and organized a protest in which the entire student body walked out of school until the dress code policy was modified. Today, the students can wear their choice of clothing as long as it meets the school’s requirement of presentable attire.
These are not your average High School students and this is definately not your average High School. They are far above the level of mediocrity which plagues the impression of today’s public education arena. I noticed the students wore headphones as they changed classes. In almost every school in America this is prohibited. A teacher expressed it is a proven fact that music motivates you and pushes you to move. It’s the same reason you drive with music on in your car and walk through airports with headphones on. “We have to stop treating school like it’s a prison,” the administator explained.
The clubs on this campus are fascninating. I can could go on and on all day about The Panther Shop, which is pretty much a Starbucks on campus, or the two-story library with reading lounge areas for students to study together on couches and comfortable cushioned seats. I could write a novel about the massive computer technology center, a first class computer division available to all students. Instead, I’d rather use my last two paragraphs to expound on a few things which are even more amazing than these things. Yes… it gets better!
The On-Campus Organizations are seriously above the bar. For example, there is a Gay Alliance for students in which they are allowed to freely be themselves. I asked if there was a bullying issue on the campus and the students laughed. One student answered while laughing, “Not at all. They are cool and everyone gets along with them.” There is also a chapel on the school property in which they refer to as, “The Tabernacle”. Students of every Faith are allowed to sit and pray if they need to and on Mondays they offer an Interdenominational Service which turns into a Faith Fellowship for hours after school.
They have found ways to cut down on behavioral problems extremely. Football players mentor Special Needs students daily. The school offers American Sign Language so all students are able to communicate with their deaf peers. Guidance Counselors are more useful as Life Coaches operating in an elaborate center called, The Go Center, in which every student gets a personal mentor preparing them for career opportunities and college daily. The Go Center is all glass and it looks attractively invtiting and very hip, similar to a department store in a shopping mall.
The CTE Seminar in which I spoke at today was Co-Ordinated by Mrs. Christina Hunter, the school’s Forensic Science Teacher. Yes, you read it correctly. They are taking collegiate level Forensic Science courses in High School. “I love this place. We are just as motivated to come to work as they are to come to class. I’ve never been part of anything like this in my life,” said Hunter. “Mr. Wright’s message resonated well with our students. Motivation is the key to turning lives around. Hearing it from others increases the magnitude of your future,” she said.
Kaleel Jefferson, a Junior, definitely captivated my ears. He was wearing a Xavier University coat. “I’m going to Xavier when I graduate,” he told me. Jefferson has never been to the campus of Xavier in New Orleans but plans to tour the campus this Summer. I asked him what interested him most about Xavier. I expected one or two thoughts but this kid could do a lecture on the Xavier Legacy. Later, I found out the students at Duncanville High School are not only pushed to take college seriously but they are pushed to learn which college is the right college for their ambitions.
Such an impressive educational environment filled my wife and I with so much joy that we left the campus feeling as if we had taken a brief vacation in Heaven. Life made more sense in the walls of this institution than it did in the real world. There is only one issue this school has yet to solve. They don’t know how to make the students go home.