At any one time in the school, you can hear the words “sine over cosine” and “rhetorical devices.”

At any one time in the school, you can smell the sweetness of breakfast waffles, followed by the delicious smell of baked breads for lunch sandwiches.

At any one time in the school, you can taste the victory in the chlorinated pool or out on the grassy fields.

At any one time in the school, you can see the office staff working with a parent and student to get the student all the emotional and academic support he/she needs to be successful.

At any one time in the school, a life is touched.

Since re-entry into the grind of the school day from the Netherlands, I have been more keenly aware of what our school – and all our neighboring schools – have to offer. It’s quite something, really, that we offer food, counseling, advice on future careers, college courses, various levels of courses within the standard curriculum, sports, sports therapy, community service, access to free books, and on and on and on. I understand that we can take these items for granted, but I’ve learned to value what we do well. And what we do well is supply a lot of opportunities for students to explore.

Yet another opportunity to explore is that of the Tech Center at the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District in Holland, Michigan. With over 25 programs ranging from auto mechanics to healthcare to culinary arts to public safety, the Tech Center is a terrific way for students to explore their passions and even let those programs lead directly into job opportunities. While these programs take students away from the school hallways for half of the day, it allows them the pursuit of what’s meaningful to them.

I was reminded of the power of these physical and educational structures after being visited by Marieke, my Dutch colleague and friend. (She’s been here this week because we’re dreaming up an educational/cultural exchange between our students.) By touring her around and by hearing her comments on the size of the fields and the quality of the labs and the caring nature of the office staff, I was reminded of all I take for granted.

But I shouldn’t.

Schools do such critical work. Yes, it’s true, growth is always the goal. We can always do better. I don’t disagree. But, we do so much well. Sometimes in the hunt for being better, we forget to appreciate the accomplishments.

Through fresh eyes, my senses are flying in full force, appreciating each role we play – even the role of the physical spaces – in creating meaningful opportunities.

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