Delta provides positive alternative

March 19, 2014 

Editor’s note: Centre County Teacher-Writers is a group of teachers who gather to write about life in the classroom and the issues that concern them as educators. The group includes pre-K-12 teachers and teacher educators from the Centre Region who support each other as writers. Columns by members of this group run on the opinion page each month.

We are fortunate to live in a town where school choice exists.

The elementary, middle and high schools provide an excellent education for most. They offer a wide array of intramural, enrichment and club opportunities, not to mention our world-class music program.

However, there are always students who benefit from smaller learning environments. I was one of those students.

High school was a tough time for me. I was disinterested, unmotivated, detached from school. By the end of 10th grade, I knew I needed a change.

I’d heard of the Alternative Program (now the Delta Program). It had smaller class sizes and greater flexibility in course selection.

I was interested, and many of my friends were interested, but most of their parents said no.

So, I took a leap of faith and enrolled at Delta.

I was thrust into a new world where the idea of school and my definition of learning would be forever changed.

In all honesty, I would have been happy to continue laying low, sailing through my final years unnoticed. But I was immediately caught up in in the Delta community.

Despite my teenage angst and stubborn protests, I actually began to enjoy some of my classes. Even math, my most dreaded subject, became interesting.

Reflecting on my time at Delta, I feel it was the small environment that really made the difference.

I had great teachers at the high school and at Delta. Many of my friends remained at the high school and had a wonderful experience right through graduation. But I needed a smaller environment, and Delta was the answer.

Another interesting thing happened.

I broadened my network of friends. Kids I wouldn’t normally have hung out with were laughing next to me as we walked downtown.

I don’t think I ever admitted it to my parents or friends, but for the first time since third grade, I liked going to school.

Without Delta’s flexible curriculum and small community, I don’t know that I would have been ready for college. In two years, it reshaped my idea of school and learning. I’ve often thought about how my development might have been affected had I attended Delta from a younger age.

Today I’m a teacher.

I’ve moved around quite a bit in my 16 years, trying to find the flexibility and freedom I crave as an educator.

In January, I learned that Delta would expand to include fifth through eighth grades. I seriously got chills. Why hadn’t this happened sooner? I thought of all the kids I’d taught who would have benefited from a middle-level Delta program.

I am fortunate to have been hired as the first middle-level Delta teacher. I’m looking forward to collaborating with administrators, parents, students and staff to cultivate a community of innovative learners.

Though we have much work ahead, we are not starting from scratch; Delta has a strong, 40-year history of success. I realize the middle-level program will look different, but the principles will remain.

Building community and empowering student voice, parent involvement and hands-on learning will be core components. I can’t wait to get started.

David Rockower will teach English at the Delta Middle School in the fall.

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