Final Observations: Work and the Student Dynamic at John Marshall High School

Reflecting on my experiences with the Act IV team at John Marshall High School, there are a few more comments I would like to add about the dynamic of the students themselves, and the importance our difficulties with them raised.

Our central issue with the students was the lack of obligation they felt to show up. Our project was not prioritized by them, or at least not at until the 11th hour. However, the fact that we were not a priority was not simply because the students were lazy or unwilling, but rather, because they had a set of priorities that my personal background would not have guessed at.

Our students, aged 15-17, had to work. At one rehearsal, we had a girl complaining about how she missed work for rehearsal. At the time, we did not think much of this comment. We had a fair share of complaints from they high school students about what they could be doing or where they wanted to be, i.e. “My friends are at KFC right now…I’m hungry, can I just go?!”

However, the importance of this particular comment crystallized when one of our students on Friday had to leave Perkinson Hall to go to work before the performance began. Her father, yelling at her on her cell phone, insisted on coming to pick her up at University of Richmond. When Mrs. Ramsey told me what was going on, I was immediately concerned. “I feel so bad that we made her miss work!” I said. Mrs Ramsey said, “Well it’s just a typical teenager thinking she could be two places at once. The difference is, they have to work. Missing work really is not an option for them. They need it.”

This issue is explored further in our final paper, but I wanted to recognized the importance of the distinction in particular. A lot of times, as a group, we had trouble understanding why students just wouldn’t come. They are in high school, what could be so important that they would miss this? Well. Work for these kids is more important. That’s the truth. And that was an unexpected reality that we had to face head on with JSP.