Earlier this week, the good folks at Tuscaloosa’s Rock Quarry Middle School invited local officials to come tour their school.  They also included one old writer from Montgomery.

They especially wanted local legislators to stop by and get a firsthand look at what goes on in their 6th, 7th and 8th grades.  This is a great idea and I wish more schools did the same thing.  While we often fuss and fret about what lawmakers in Montgomery do, truth is, too many educators don’t extend invitations for them to see education in action these days.  We need to be more proactive.

Julie Ramsay, 6th grade teacher at Rock Quarry Middle, understands this.  So she and her principal, Lynda Ingram, made it happen.  Julie has been a teacher for more than two decades and has earned national board certification.  The fact she commutes from Birmingham each day to Tuscaloosa indicates her dedication.

So I showed up right on time.  Several students greeted me and introduced me to my host.  But before we began, he gave me a large envelope addressed to Mr. Lee.  I stuffed it in my pocket and away we went.

I was greeted by several students in Julie’s classroom.  They did a great job of explaining that their project was to carefully examine clues from a crime scene and write a report explaining who they thought the culprit was and supporting their reasoning.  There was even yellow crime scene tape strung across the entrance to the classroom.

Students were working in groups and I was invited to join several different groups and watch them work.

One had to be impressed by the level of student engagement.  These young people were definitely “in to it.”  They were busy going through the info they had and coming up with clues.  Someone had been murdered.  They knew when the body was discovered and decided when the crime took place by the condition of the victim.

They were not sitting at desks in a row solemnly listening to a teacher instructing them.  This was hands on with young minds asking questions and coming up with answers.  Julie Ramsey was not trying to pound material in them as if they were all gas cans and she wanted to fill them to the brim.

But the best was yet to come.

When I got in my car to head home I remembered the envelope and opened it.  To my surprise, and delight, out came a number of letters addressed to me from Julie’s students.  Each neatly written on notebook paper.  Here are a few of their comments.

Margaret said: “I want elementary, middle and high schools to have a bigger choice of foreign languages to learn, which will give students more jobs and college options.  Maybe you could help us by writing to the public.”

From Baden: “Here you see happy kids learning in a fun, happy environment.  Teachers here are phenomenal.  I wish every kid in Alabama got the same education as we do.”

Emma said: Every day is a day to learn something new.  Students should learn and have fun.  I hope you enjoyed seeing all the wonderful learning we do every day.”

Maya: “Schools should have different courses in high school like introduction to medical, architectural and agricultural courses.  This would give students a choice of what they want to learn about and provide hands-on learning experience.”

Skye: “I know that you haven’t been a student in a classroom for a while.  I’m just very happy that you are here.  I hope you see everything we do in the classroom and that we may have surprised you.”  (Obviously this one made me chuckle.)

Parker: “Our electives are band (I play the baritone), strings, Spanish, and choir.  I would like for everyone 3rd through 12th grade to have a  portable Wi-Fi device, and a Microsoft surface laptop, or an Apple MacBook Pro.  Then all students could have access to the internet at home.”

Now you see why I was so impressed.

Just a year ago this month, former Governor Robert Bentley loudly proclaimed that “education sucks” in Alabama.  Obviously he never spent any time at Rock Quarry Middle School in his hometown.