December 3, 2019

Chalk Talk: Patrick Synan

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“I love going to work because I don’t feel like I’m on one side of a divide and my students and their families are on another. We’re all doing the same work together and it’s always a good time.”

So says Patrick Synan, a reformed high school troublemaker now in his “fourth and best year of teaching” science and debate at East Boston High School. Teaching in a program for students with significant gaps in their education – most haven’t been to school since they were young children – he relies on these partnerships to motivate his students to learn and help him grow as a teacher.

“I have kids who are learning to write their own name and others who read at a third-grade level. Emotionally, it can be hard on a kid surrounded by classmates who are more advanced. Until they returned to school, many of my students gained experience in construction and farming, but are now thrust into a system that prizes a different kind of knowledge. Going from expert to novice hurts, but our job is to inspire them to overcome this frustration and get excited about their new academic journey. We push our students to make daily scholastic, social, and emotional gains.”

Patrick learned quickly that his job would be impossible without enlisting all the others who care about his kids.

So, when he was working with a team of E4E-Boston teachers to author the policy paper “Thriving, not Just Surviving,” he made sure it included a recommendation to establish a role in every school dedicated to family and community involvement. Patrick knows how important this role is because his school had the foresight to invest in a community outreach director named Nina. And she has made all the difference.

Having a community outreach director has made all the difference for #E4EBOS member Patrick’s students. He thinks every school should have a similar role.

“Nina is one of the kindest people I know, filling our halls with an endless supply of energy and a radical sense of practical idealism. She gets people clothes who need clothes, food who need food, and helps students who have the time, resources, and spirit to put those things back into our school or those who just need a hand. She is the axis of the school community.”

What’s more, Nina empowers both students and teachers to be their best selves. “She is on the ground constantly engaging with teachers, students, the community, finding ways to get people together. Her fresh attitude and ideas somehow inspired me to start two clubs at a time when I didn’t think I had the energy or confidence. I was worried about a lot of what-ifs, but those weren’t in her vocabulary.”

Nina as a powerful example of what’s possible when all members of a school come together to engage a community in students’ learning.

#E4EBOS member Patrick Synan sees what’s possible when all members of a school come together to engage a community in students’ learning.

“We have the primary goal of being able to have students prepared to go out into the world. And we do that by showing them how to access information, synthesize it and create something new. You can’t do that if students’ basic needs aren’t being met. If they are hungry or not sleeping you can’t work on critical thinking at all. That’s why we have community engagement, so we catch kids who are missing the essentials and get students back on their feet when they fall down. Being able to reach parents and other community members who are important pieces of a child’s education – even though they may not yet know it – is a crucial element of getting to that primary purpose. We need engagement so students can go out and achieve what they want.

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