More Than Just Numbers

I’ve been working on this article about technology in Columbia Public Schools all week (that ended up being published Feb. 12 — read it here). It’s required a lot of research and analysis of tables, graphs and jargon-filled reports, and some of the information I’ve gotten from it will certainly be included in my story.

Numbers are great. Data are cool. Statistics, though I can’t graph anything particularly well, are pretty informative. However, as my editor reminded me, the education beat is really about two things: kids and learning. (She even said it three times for emphasis.)

This concept gave me a flashback to my senior yearbook (titled “Valhalla,” or Viking heaven — we were the Lakeside Vikings), which one of my good friends and I co-edited. The theme? More than just numbers.

ybcover

The cover (front cover above) showed statistics about the school (to the annoyance of our staff, who we made check, double-check and triple-check the number of everything imaginable) because people (the press counting as a person) try to define schools by numbers. Perhaps not in the terms we were thinking (e.g., number of stairs in the building), but in terms of percentages of each race, average test scores and dropout rates.

Sure, the content of our yearbook included numbers — we put similar statistics on each section division page. Inside the sections, however, was personalized content. Body copies were written more like short newspaper articles with quotes and specifics, and we had as many photos and Q-and-A modules as aesthetically pleasing pages would allow. We made the content about the people, just as education content should be about those involved and affected: the students. And that’s what I plan to focus on when writing this technology story and other data-filled articles.

I’ll leave you with the body copy of our Closing page (titled “A Myriad of Memories” because “myriad” was my favorite word that week) in which we explained this concept to readers:

The end of the school year brings mixed feelings. Freshmen prepare to share their newfound knowledge with the incoming class of 2015. Sophomores begin considering post-secondary options and preparing for the challenging school year ahead. Juniors narrow down college choices and apply for part-time jobs. Seniors receive diplomas that bring both excitement and anxiety about the next chapters of their lives, whether they plan to further their education or enter the workforce.

August 2010 through May 2011 provided us with 10 months in which we could make thousands of memories. We learned about topics ranging from physics to fashion design. We shouted words of support to our sports teams and filled the stands with purple and gold paraphernalia. We met community members as we volunteered at our feeder schools. We cheered for the Miss Lakeside contestants and teared up at the tragic end of “Pippin.” We watched as our parking lot and track transformed into construction zones and adapted to the resulting changes. We shared our excitement after doing well and received positive re-encouragement when needed. Perhaps most importantly, we befriended and bonded with each other.

As we reflect on the 177 days of school this year, the personal memories come to mind first. When reminiscing about high school, most of us will not recall our GPAs or our SAT scores, but we will remember the thrilling sensation resulting from a winning goal and the uninhibited laughter resulting from a humorous lunch conversation. Such memories may not be quantifiable, but they are real. With the help of photographs and words, these memories enable us to re-experience the range of emotions felt throughout the high school experience.

We could attempt to document this year in retrospect by calculating the number of freshman tardies on the first day, the number of science fair projects at the school level, the average number of job applications each student completed, or the number of diplomas issued, but those statistics provide us with merely an idea of the year’s occurrences; sensory accounts of our experiences fill in the details, making those ideas reality. Therefore, we are not quantifiable; we are more than just numbers.

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