Friday, April 20, 2007

jr. high blues

Changes are happening very quickly in the KC school district. The new superintendent Anthony Amato is really shaking things up. Not sure yet what to think of it all. But at the onset I'm kind of excited about his plan to eliminate most of the city's middle schools.
Amato wants to phase out most middle schools and begin adding sixth through eighth grades to elementary schools...

patron Stacy Evans said she likes the idea of children growing through a neighborhood school all the way to high school.

“I don’t think middle schools work,” she said. “I really like the idea” of K-8 schools.

Amato cites research that says middle-years students perform better in K-8 schools. Students will grow up “in a familial atmosphere where they know the teachers, they know the students."

I'm not an expert on education. Not by any stretch. But when I was working on my book, interviewing kids and their parents, a consistent plotline emerged:

Kids tend to fall off in the sixth grade.

I've got a lot of theories about why this happens, some of which are outrageously radical, so I won't go into them here. But one theory that seems to have some credence is the notion that kids need the nurturing environment of elementary to extend into the early years of puberty.

The years of 12 through 14 are already traumatic enough without having to add the stress of going to a whole new school, with a whole new culture and set of rules (and without recess).

I'm not sure yet about Amato. He's making a lot of changes, real fast. But this K-8 idea really resonates with me.

I don't know if it's the solution. But we have to try something. We're losing way too many kids during these crucial adolescent years.


KC Sponge said...

My daughter will be starting kindergarten next year at a charter school here in KC. One of the main reasons I chose the school that I did was because it was a K-8. It's a scary freakin thing to think about what is going to happen in 6th grade with your cute little muchkin today. It's the friends you make in middle school that start to shape - or at least help to shape - the kind of teenager you are going to be. If you just continue on from 5th to 6th and then 6th to 7th and so on, these friendships have been nurtured since Kindergarten - being much more stable and less likely to be destructive relationships that 12 year olds tend to create. And the famililies will have grown up through the school as well, so the support system is stronger. I think it's a fabulous idea - and it's promising to know that people are in place to start the needed changes of the KCMO school district.

Lisa said...

I think neighborhood schools are an important fix, not only for the school district but also for our societal problems as a whole. Why should these kids (the future adult citizens of this city) care about their neighborhood, about their peers...basically about anyone...when they don't know each other? Everyone is talking about inner city crime and snitches. I think we could make some progress toward solving these problems if we stopped shipping our kids across the metro area and gave them a sense of home, a sense of place.

Jeff said...

Lisa - you are exactly right. People have such diverse educational goals for their children, though. That's where community centers come in. Kansas City lacks strong community centers and that, along with the disconnect of private vs charter vs public vs MOVING, really divides families within the same neighborhood. I am not one to ever glorify the suburbs - but that is where they do things right. Good community centers that provide families with services and activities and a place to get together with other people in their community - Leawood's got them, Mission's got one, heck - Merriam has one, Blue Valley, Olathe, Overland Park (yes, both south and north). Kansas City, we have what - 20 community centers - but not one that is really functioning as a 'center' for the 'community'. I'm going to the Earth Day celebration tomorrow at Bruce R. Watkins, we'll see how that is attended . . .
But yes, in a perfect world, we would all grow up in our neighborhood schools. That's how I did. In a suburb. I'd rather keep the residents here and let them chooose where they want their child to be educated - as long as that's not the only place they have to find 'community.'