Welcome to Oak Ridge High School Open House

Mrs. Janica discusses her Spanish 2 class with parents at last night's ORHS Open House.

I am jaded.

Jaded. I freely admit it. I have now been going to annual school Open House for 25 years now in South Montgomery County. Twenty five years, spanning five elementary schools, two middle schools, four junior high schools, and three high schools. You start out in kindergarten, with the tiny chairs and desks, listening to teachers talk about letters and writing your name and using manipulatives (still have no idea what that is).

Of course, a lot of those Open Houses took place in The Woodlands, where the classes were full of anxious parents who wanted to make sure their public school-educated young child was getting the best educational experience possible. It seems that five-year old Johnny can not only read already, but this summer he submitted an article for publication in The Atlantic after he returned from a six-week camp for young engineers. Mom wants to know when he can be accepted into the GT program, while Johnny is sitting quietly in the corner examining his finger for what he just pulled out of his nose.

I always marveled at the parents who felt like Open House was the perfect opportunity to not only meet the teacher, but to also expound upon the wonders of their own children, and question whether the early-year assignments were really challenging the kids in the first two weeks of school.

I never did this. I was always content to sit quietly in the back, sizing up the teacher for how he or she might respond to the many moments when one of my sons would do something to make their dad really proud. Would the teacher be stern and tell me, “We take discipline seriously here…” or would she light up and say, “Oh, I just love him – he’s so full of personality!” When the bell would ring, I’d simply walk out, smile, maybe mouth a thank you, knowing that it would be all too soon before I’d be called in for a parent-teacher conference.

I didn’t go to last year’s Open House at ORHS – I don’t recall why – I just didn’t go. I was supposed to be out of town yesterday, but life intervened, and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to meet my son’s teachers. I would go, and sit in the back, as inconspicuous as I could be (while, you know, taking a few pics for the website). I went this year with no preconceived notions – I had not yet been told who was the mean teacher and who was the nice one.

I had received about 19 audio messages about Open House via e-mail over the past week, so I knew it started a little after 7:00, and that  I could pick up my son’s schedule between 6:30 and 7:00. I figured if I get there at 6:45 I’d be golden. He’s a running diary from last night’s festivities:

Robinson Road construction still affecting traffic at 7:00 pm.

6:45 pm – OK, I’m already running a little late, but I’m cruising down Hanna behind three or four other people doing 40 mph, vigilantly watching for police. Looks like there is traffic ahead. Really? This many people going to Open House? Nope. Looks like a combination of Open House and the Robinson Road detour traffic. We are at a dead stop blocks from Robinson Road. Joy.

6:59 pm – Finally made it through traffic, and rolled through the stop sign at Harlan right in front of two Shenandoah police cars. Smart move. Keep looking in the side view mirror to see if one of them is turning around. Maybe the traffic was too much for them. I’m good. The east school parking lot appears full with a line of cars waiting to get in. I’ll just park on the road. On the way into the school I see 20 parking spaces I could have had.

7:03 pm – Inside the school, I head over to the A-B line to get my son’s schedule. The guy there points me to the C-F line, and sure enough, that’s where the schedules of the kids with a last name beginning with “B” are. I pick up the school floor plan, and armed with the schedule and floor plan, I set off ready to go. Except I have no idea where to go. I am inexplicably looking for a “You Are Here” designation on the floor plan, and I cannot figure out in which direction to head. Fortunately for me, there are Air Force Junior ROTC kids in uniform sprinkled throughout the crowd. One of them sees the obvious confusion on my face, comes over and asks if I need directions. A high school kid proactively helping out a perplexed adult. Wow.

Mrs. Neman explaining the difference between Honors and AP classes.

7:09 pm – I’m in Mrs. Neman’s Honors English class. She’s already explaining what the class is all about. I must be late. Nope. Apparently these parents we’re either more well-prepared or more well-versed in the layout of ORHS. The bell rings to signal the start of Open House. There are eight parents in this class. One starts asking about AP English classes for dual-credit. I double-check to make sure I am not in The Woodlands High School.  No moms here in full makeup, just back from the hairdresser, ready to show off their newly-whitened teeth and fresh fall fashions. Nope. I am in Oak Ridge, where people to come Open House not so much as a social event, but rather to hear what teachers have to say.

About the dual credit thing: I know a number of kids that took a lot of dual credit classes in high school. Some of them are now making a fine living as part-time waiters at Cafe Adobe, after discovering alcohol and weed in their first couple of semesters in college. Not saying it will happen to your kid (of course it won’t). I’m just sayin’. I know that doing well in AP classes improves your GPA, and I know that AP classes help in getting to the school of your choice. But I see way too many people plotting out their kids’ lives in not only high school, but in junior high and earlier.

This is the first time my son has taken an honors course. I didn’t push him to do it; he came home and announced he was going to take an honors course on his own. I am just happy to see that Mrs. Neman has a bonus list of assignments kids can do for extra credit.

Mr. Hoffman is "the cool teacher".

7:21 pm – I am desperately searching for room PA. It is nowhere to be found on my ORHS floor plan. I seek out one of the AFJROTC kids. He looks at the school map, turns it over, and points out that PA is the first portable building on the east side of the school. Parents and teachers of the AFJROTC students: you should be really proud of these kids. Every one of them I ran into was friendly, helpful, and articulate. I always hoped that one of my sons would show interest in the ROTC program, but alas, it was not to be.

7:23 pm – Law Enforcement with Mr. Hoffman. I am two minutes late. He jokingly threatens to charge me with a tardy. Law Enforcement wasn’t offered when I was going to school – the only “vocational” electives were Home Economics (for girls) and Shop (for guys). There are only three parents in here, perhaps because no one else could find the class. In any event, Mr. Hoffman indicates that he is “the cool teacher”.  I am hoping that’s good and that my son does well in his class. I am thinking I won’t hear of any hi-jinks because they’ll be taken care of in class. He’s an ex-police officer, after all.

7:32 pm – Back into the school for U.S. History Honors with Ms. Goddard. It’s pretty warm in here. I don’t know if it’s always that way or if it’s because I am sweating navigating the throngs of people between classes. How you can go from a class on one side of this school to another on the other side in six minutes is beyond me. And I don’t have to stop at a locker along the way. Maybe I am just not young and spry anymore. And there are lots of kids here. Not just high school kids, but also younger brothers and sisters. My kids would never dare accompany me to Open House. Too much of a chance that I would embarrass them. I know this: these desks were not made for people of my size. There are six parents in here. Ms. Goddard finishes her spiel and asks if there are any questions. Dead silence.

7:43 pm – On to Spanish 2 with Mrs. Janica. I walk in and the conversation has already been going for a while. A whopping 11 parents are in here. Mrs. Janica seems like a no-nonsense teacher with that old-school teacher handwriting on the chalkboard. She has a limited number of physical textbooks and suggests that our kids reserve one, rather than having to access the text online. Really? An online textbook? She prefers to read the physical book, however, and I tend to agree with her. Our kids, however, are really comfortable with online tools, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my son forgoes the heavy textbook (that he will likely lose somewhere in his room) for the online version. I learn the single most valuable tidbit of information of the evening from Mrs. Janica: 60% of any language is made up of about 50 words.

Coach McDonald stares me down.

7:54 pm – Down to Geometry with Ms. Poliak. Apparently, Coach McDonald is also in this class to help out with students who need a little more assistance in geometry. This is a great idea. Though I have not had much of a need through the course of my lifetime to compute the area of a circle, it is one of those things I learned only long enough to pass a test. If I had had someone in class every day to help out in geometry and trigonometry, I would have done much better. Coach McDonald glares at me, though, as I take pictures along with notes. Coach McDonald will not tolerate any hi-jinks, I can tell. Looks like a case of good-cop, bad-cop in this class.

Ms. Poliak introduces us to Remind 101, a technology that Conroe ISD is using  to allow teachers to send you text messages about important events, like tests and major assignments, going on in their class. You can sign up for this, along with a Class Zone account to check on assignments and grades, from the Oak Ridge High School website.

8:05 pm – Math Models with Coach Compton and Coach Hunt – another two teachers assigned to a math class to ensure that kids take math retain the concepts and can pass the standardized test at year’s end. In 2011, ORHS kids had the following percentages of students pass the various TAKS tests:

Subject ORHS CISD
Social Studies 97.7% 98.2%
Reading 95.4% 94.1%
Science 88.1% 90.4%
Mathematics 83.7% 90.4%
All Tests 79.2% 85.1%

Obviously, math seems to be Oak Ridge’s Achilles Heel. So I am guessing that the extra teachers are there to help bring up those numbers. Look, I understand the problems with standardized tests, but they are in place and will be for the foreseeable future. Further, teachers and administrators are judged by these numbers, just as colleges and universities judge our kids on their SAT scores. So if it means that ORHS places two teachers in certain math classes to ensure our kids get a better grasp on math, I am all for it.

A good number of PCs still need to be repaired.

8:16 pm – On to the IT class, Principles of Information Technology, taught by Mrs. McClure. I am thinking this should be my son’s easiest class. I am immediately dismayed by the six PCs that are marked out of order, however. Kids learn to do work on a computer by doing, not by sharing a PC with someone else. We are two weeks into school, and many of these PCs were identified as broken a month ago. CISD needs to do better here. I’m also a bit concerned that they start out with keyboarding, while my son has been typing like 60 wpm (he says 100) since he learned to do so in third or fourth grade keyboarding class. But now I am sounding like Little Johnny’s parents, so I’ll back off of that. Son, you better come home with an A in this class. Raise that GPA!

Mrs. McClure teaches kids how to use the Microsoft Office suite and other commonly-used applications.

8:27 pm – The last class, Physics with Ms. Mayfield. Here’s the thing about young teachers – they really seem to be excited about what they are doing. Not that older teachers aren’t thrilled to be there, but those teachers a few years out of college don’t seem to be worn down by the demanding parents, standardized testing pressures, and sometimes obnoxious kids that would rather be anywhere else. Ms. Mayfield and Ms. Poliak (Geometry, above) are both probably younger than a couple of my sons. Remember, I have been coming to Open House for 25 years. They exude enthusiasm. This has to be a good thing for our kids. Ms. Mayfield says she is available for tutorials on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, and could also tutor students before school starts each morning, if necessary. She has tutored kids during a high school football game! How blessed are we to have these sorts of dedicated folks teaching our sons and daughters?

That’s just a quick summary of my Open House experience. If your school’s Open House has yet to be held, be sure to attend. Get signed up for Class Zone and Remind 101, and gently nudge your son or daughter when they need it. Send a friendly e-mail to the teachers when necessary (every day is unnecessary). Get involved with the PTO or PTA in your school, or just join and help fund their activities. We have a lot of wonderful people at our Oak Ridge area schools helping to shape our kids’ lives – get to know them.

I am a little less jaded than I was yesterday.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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