“Attitude: The difference between winners and losers” is a poster displayed on the wall of Northeast Middle School. For years I passed that sign but it not until I went on a tour of the school in January to find which school my son, Dylan, would attend next year, did I realize the importance of those words.
“I can’t wait to get to school in the morning. You just never know what is going to happen.”
Those words are what every parent wants to hear from their kids when it comes to going to school. And that’s just what I heard from two students who were leading a group of parents through the halls of Northeast Middle School on a cold January evening. I wasn’t looking forward to the open house, anticipating that it would be an ordinary and boring event. Yet I was surprised and inspired when two articulate 8th grade boys led our tour.
I have lived a block away from Northeast Middle school for 21 years, making visits to the school for community education classes, meetings and other events throughout the years. When it was time for my older son to attend a middle school in 1999, I refused to send him to Northeast. During that time, the school seemed to always be in the news for one problem or another and it was never pleasant to walk by the school because of the kids acting out in the neighborhood. I also heard that very few students that lived in the neighborhood attended the school.
Now many years later, I was again choosing a middle school. I knew things had changed and I wanted to find out more.
I arranged an interview with the two boys who led our tour: Hamza Shafi, 14, and Anthony LaPoint, 13, both 8th graders, who also have been good friends since they started at Northeast Middle School more than two years ago.
Both Hamza and Anthony are active students in the school, participating in athletics, a college prep course called AVID (Advanced Via Individual Determination), and the Beacons, an after school program that allows students to select from a wide variety of classes like cooking and the arts.
Why lead a bunch of parents around your school?
Hamza said that one kid actually asked him that very same question during the tour.
“It’s an amazing school. I love this school. It makes me feel good to give people information and happy to get kids interested in coming here.”
Anthony said that he wanted to be a tour guide and help. “I remembered how good I was treated when I took the tour.”
What is it about Northeast that is so great?
According to both Hamza and Anthony, learning is very much a team effort.
Hamza said that at Northeast, which has an International Baccalaureate Program, “Teachers help you so your work is above and beyond. Everything they do is to get us prepared for high school and college. We compare learning what other people are learning. We don’t look at the world as large as it is but a smaller portion. We look at our similarities and we try to bring things closer.”
With an advanced curriculum, Hamza said that the teachers help you slowly so you understand.
“They don’t force you into it. They break it into baby steps for you if you need it.” Anthony added.
Anthony said that the teachers are another reason the school is so good.
“Teachers focus on learning,” he said. “They form you into good people. All teachers care and all are there to talk to if you are having a bad day and help you turn it around. They give you tips.”
“Great programs,” Hamza said, recalling as a new 6th grade student working backstage and watching his very first musical. “It’s amazing.” Miss Dudley, the theater director, “makes you feel as if you are in the musical,” he said adding that 50-60 students participate per performance.
Anthony, who is active in basketball, said that Northeast offers a variety of sports from baseball, volleyball, wrestling and girls’ softball. Even the teachers get involved in occasional scrimmages.
With a variety of activities and teachers who are involved in many of the events, Anthony said he is always excited to come to school.
Hamza chimed in, “You never know what is going to happen.”
What about racial tension or bullying?
Anthony acknowledged that the school has ways to address any issues of bullying but that he recalled no problems himself.
“It’s a diverse student body and the teachers welcome you. That’s what I love about this neighborhood. There is no racial tension,” Hamza said.
After my interview, I talked to Northeast teachers, parents, and other students about the school before finally making my decision to send Dylan to Northeast next year. It wasn’t hard since he is also very excited about the school.
Jill Davis, Minneapolis School Board chair, whose son also attends Northeast Middle School, reflected that same enthusiasm for the school. She said that the IB curriculum not only highlights the academics but also heightens staff cohesiveness promoting teamwork between the teachers.
“You can really tell the staff are talking and working together, ” she said.
It’s not that everything is perfect here. This school has its own unique challenges to face ahead. I am sure there are those that will argue that Northeast is just another failing Minneapolis school and that it really hasn’t improved over the last few years or is as great as these two students maintain. But then again I am reminded of the poster on the school’s wall and think that maybe attitude is really all it ever takes if you want to succeed.