By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
Today, Wilson Creekmur is a strong proponent of the Family Fusion project at his high school. But it wasn't always so. Wilson recalls the first time he heard about the program that was designed to help students feel connected by placing them into small family units for one class period, twice a week. "I thought it was stupid," he says. "It was a big waste of time. The School Improvement Committee wanted us to use two class periods a week to do a bunch of touchy-feely things," he continued. "It was ridiculous. So I fought it."
Wilson is a twenty-year teaching veteran. He is also the president of his local teachers' union. He takes his professional practice seriously. He is a popular figure in his high school and well respected. When he talks, people listen.
And talk he did concerning the pending adoption of the Family Fusion project. He spoke out against it, eloquently and often. He talked to members of the School Improvement Committee one at a time. He spoke up at meetings when the project was discussed. He buttonholed other faculty members and shared his concerns. He urged them to vote it down.
In spite of Wilson's objections, the plan eventually won faculty approval. Shared decision making left him on the wrong side of the issue. Students were divided into families of twenty. Each family unit contained students from four grade levels, freshmen to seniors. Each contained one professional educator whose job was to facilitate the meetings and help the group bond.
Once a week the committee sent out suggestions that facilitators could use if they chose. Some were activities. Others were discussion topics. One week it was suggested that facilitators lead a discussion on what makes a good friend. Another time the suggested activity was to tell what your favorite animal was and explain why. Other ideas the committee shared included:
Wilson Creekmur implemented the program and used many of the suggested ideas. To say that this was his favorite part of the day would be a lie. He didn't like it much. But he followed through. He didn’t sabotage the program by employing passive resistance, although some days it seemed to him as if he was just going through the motions. On those days, "I couldn’t wait to get to what I considered real teaching," he says. "That would be algebra, geometry, and my one history class."
Then it happened. One morning when Wilson was doing some real teaching of real geometry, another teacher stepped into his classroom. "I'm going to take over for you," she informed him. "Mrs. Carpenter [the school principal] just called, and she needs you at the hospital. We’ll cover for you."
"What happened?" Wilson asked.
"One of our students, Carlos Ortega, was hit by a car out in front of the school. He has a broken arm. He's going to be OK, but he's scared and he’s asking for you."
"We can't get hold of the parents. The office has called both parents and the other person listed on the emergency card. No answer anyplace. Mrs. Carpenter asked him if there was someone else he would like to stay with him. He picked you."
Wilson went to the hospital that morning, relieved the principal, and sat with Carlos until later in the day when his mother arrived. During his time with Carlos, he did what he could to provide comfort, encouragement, reassurance, and presence. After he had been there awhile he asked the question he had been pondering all morning. "How come you asked for me?"
A frightened and brave young freshman looked his teacher in the eye and touched his soul with these words: "Because I'm in your family and you care about me."
Today, Wilson Creekmur is a strong proponent of the Family Fusion project at his high school. And it wasn't always so.