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What Inspires You?  

 

BY KIMBERLY MORITZ

At a Communities for Learning professional development workshop session, the presenter posed this question: “What inspires you?” I listened as educators shared personal passions like photography and nature and art.

I thought, “I have no hobbies or life outside of school,” but then realized that what has always inspired me most is my work. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been really good at in my life.

The chance to make a difference for children: What could possibly be more inspiring?

Personal Discovery
Attending public school in the Plum Borough School District near Pittsburgh was an incredible experience. Teachers were the people who took care of me in 6th grade when my father was seriously injured in a coal-mining cave-in and my mother was consumed with caring for him through rehabilitation.

My father was strict and not what I would call “inspiring.” Looking back, I’m certain he just had no idea how to parent a strong-willed girl. I wasn’t permitted to date or to go anywhere, but he allowed me to do anything that was school-related. I joined everything. School was the place where I began to discover my strengths and what I was better off leaving to others with more ability and talent.

It was through school activities that my teachers encouraged me to try leadership roles in after-school clubs, acting in the senior-class play, marching in the color guard and competing at the local, state and national levels in DECA (formerly the Distributive Education Clubs of America). Much to my own surprise, I was successful, and I sought out every opportunity, becoming active in Junior Achievement and learning how to plan, lead and speak publicly — skills I draw on today.

I’m grateful for those experiences and am compelled to re-create them for our students. It’s the reason our school district will support two student musicals during this school year, not just one for high school, but another for elementary school too. Imagine the huge number of students who will be touched by these experiences. It’s important we find lots of ways for our students to connect and succeed in our schools. Unlike my own high school, which was large and suburban, our small, rural district must work even harder to find affordable ways for students to be involved.

Student Inspiration
I’m most inspired by the experiences we create that touch students who aren’t connected to us through academic or athletic success. It’s why in 2002-03, I started something in our school known as the Randolph Rumble — to showcase the talents of an amazing group of young men who were disenfranchised. As the principal, I interacted with them for disciplinary reasons, but in getting to know them, I learned that what inspired each of them was their band, Post Mortem.

I knew school certainly wasn’t engaging them, and they weren’t feeling a connection to much of anything or anyone there. I asked them to perform at the Randolph Rumble, the culminating activity of a schoolwide behavior management program to improve attendance and school climate. They rocked the auditorium, and from that day forward, those boys were somebody in our school. They had an identity and a voice. And every one of them graduated and continues to be successful today.

It’s one of the moments in my career that most inspired me and of which I’m most proud. The Randolph Rumble became an event at which students could show what inspires them, especially if it was a passion or talent that otherwise wasn’t known or celebrated in our school as a more traditional sport or club.

Another student who continues to inspire me is Joe Tyler, who was in 9th grade when I started as the high school principal in a nearby school district. Joe wasn’t experiencing much success academically. Like the boys in the band at Randolph, he struggled to find his place in school. When Joe’s dad saw me one evening, he said, “I need that boy to go to BOCES and learn a trade so he can get work some day.” Because Joe was technically a 9th grader and BOCES served students in 11th and 12th grades, I had to skirt the typical enrollment procedures. “I’ll send him to BOCES for a trade,” I promised. Joe found what worked for him and graduated. Handing Joe Tyler his high school diploma a few years later was one of the best moments of my life.

Helping our kids find success and happiness — that’s what inspires me. Every time one of our students walks through my door to talk with me about something that interests him or her, I’m inspired. How about you?

Kimberly Moritz is superintendent of the Randolph School District in Randolph, N.Y. E-mail: KMoritz@rand.wnyric.org. She blogs at www.kimberlymoritz.com.

 

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