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Does middle school hurt students?

Striving for success

Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011 9:51 PM
Last updated 11:19 PM
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Perhaps middle school is the problem.

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Jason Moore (left) ponders the question during a game of Jeopardy during Bill Streetman's sixth-grade social studies class at Hephzibah Middle School as Chris Kitchens raises his hand to answer.  Sara Caldwell/Staff
Sara Caldwell/Staff
Jason Moore (left) ponders the question during a game of Jeopardy during Bill Streetman's sixth-grade social studies class at Hephzibah Middle School as Chris Kitchens raises his hand to answer.

A recently released Harvard University study that tracked Florida students from the middle grades through 10th grade showed that pupils who went to a traditional middle school – a sixth- through eighth-grade configuration – fared worse academically than their peers who attended schools that are kindergarten through eighth grade.

A quick glance at Richmond County test data from 2007 through 2010 would seem to bear that out, because C.T. Walker Tra­ditional Magnet and Freedom Park, both of which are K-8 schools, outperformed most of the district’s middle schools, while W.S. Hornsby K-8 School fared worse.

But Walker is a magnet school, attracting the most academically motivated pupils, and Freedom Park has some advantages – close-knit community, a more active and available set of parents – that come with being on a military post.

Pupils and teachers attending both kinds of schools said they like where they are.

Lauren Silvis, 13, transferred to Freedom Park at the beginning of the school year. An eighth-grader, Lauren previously attended a traditional middle school. Based on her experience, she said that if she could choose, she would pick the K-8 setting for the middle grades.

“In a six-to-eight middle school, you either want to be like the eighth-graders or the sixth-graders,” she said. “You always want to be like someone else who is higher or better. K-8 shows you are all treated the same way. You can be yourself, you don’t have to pretend.”

It’s an issue the Richmond County school system has looked at for more than 30 years, said Virginia Bradshaw, the district’s executive director of middle schools.

She explained that under Superintendent Da­na Bedden, East Augusta Middle School merged with Hornsby Elementary to create Hornsby K-8, and Collins and Freedom Park elementary schools both added grades six through eight.

“For each of these schools, the emphasis was on serving the unique needs of each community,” Bradshaw said in an e-mail, later adding, “The current emphasis in Richmond County is on strengthening the middle school programs rather than creating more K-8 schools.”

Traditional schools

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of a traditional middle school, researchers say, is that sixth-graders are the youngest pupils in the building. They go through a lot of changes because of puberty. The subjects they study are significantly more difficult than in elementary school, and they change classes much more often.

The Harvard study found that pupils who had gone from a K-5 elementary school to a traditional middle school suffered a bigger drop in their test scores than those who stayed in a K-8 school. Furthermore, the traditional middle school pupils never recovered from that setback in their achievement – even through 10th grade, and these pupils were more likely to drop out than their K-8 peers, the study says.

“Sixth-grade is a challenge because of that transition from elementary to middle school,” said Larina Thomas, the principal of Hephzibah Middle School. “Once they start at our school, they have to adjust to new rules, a new campus, the rituals and routines.”

To help ease what can be an awkward transition, the Richmond County school system started a summer academy last year for rising sixth-graders.

It is designed to bring these pupils into middle school a couple of weeks before classes start so they can see the building for themselves and meet their teachers.

Thomas said Hephzibah Middle’s version, called “Stepping into Rebel Nation,” accomplished its purpose, though she conceded she would have liked to see better attendance.

Another program at the school is Teachers as Advisors. Also in its first year, the program gives every teacher a small group of pupils to mentor. Once a month, the teachers meet with their pupils and listen to their fears, concerns and other comments.

The teachers give advice or use what pupils say to, perhaps, give feedback to other teachers in the school about why a pupil struggles with a certain concept.

“I’m nobody’s math expert,” said Bill Streetman, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Hephzibah Middle. “But it gives an opportunity to say to the math teacher, ‘There’s something this child is struggling with.’ So why not pull Ms. So-and-So aside and ask her?”

Ronald Drayton, the parent of a sixth-grader at Hephzibah, had high praise for the teachers, especially their willingness to listen to the pupils.

“The pupils have a little voice, and they’ve got someone to listen to them,” Drayton said. “In fifth and fourth grade, you do what the teachers say. Here, they let them voice their opinion.”

Bradshaw said Hephzibah has proved itself to be a model in implementing the mentoring program.

“Hephzibah Middle is to be commended for their implementation of a very successful Advisor/Advisee program which provides time each week for a small group of students to meet with an advisor to discuss issues of importance to them,” she said. “We look forward to having the Hephzibah staff share their particular program with other administrators and counselors.”

Pupils say the school does a good job of helping them make the step from elementary to middle school.

“It was very different, a big step from elementary school,” said Marquashia Burch, 12, a seventh-grader, recalling her transition from fifth grade at Blythe Elementary to sixth grade at Hephzibah Middle. “It was like there is more responsibility in middle school. … The teachers helped a lot, to get the kids to work together – and help each other.”

K-8 Schools

Freedom Park School might be a curve-breaker when it comes to K-8 schools.

It does deal with some forced changes in pupil population when parents are transferred out of Fort Gordon, but Maj. Gen. Alan R. Lynn, the commander, supports the school and encourages the parents stationed on post to be actively involved in their children’s education, Principal Pauline Andrews said.

She said the school’s family atmosphere, in which teachers from kindergarten through eighth grade work with each other, helps. But most important is the school’s focus on data.

That focus is apparent as soon as one walks the halls. Not only are pupils’ essays and other classroom work on display, but teachers keep color-coded charts that quickly show which pupils are excelling and which are struggling.

Efforts like this are what helped Freedom Park get recognition from Pearson/America’s Choice as a National Model School earlier this month.

“We analyze our data on the level of each child’s performance,” Andrews said. “We go back as part of the process and target those areas where the children may not be on level. We feel that is a strength: tailoring instruction to pinpoint each child’s needs.”

Freedom Park has used the Pearson America’s Choice School Design model for the past four years – as long as Danielle Gonzalez, a sixth-grade English/language arts teacher, has been a teacher there.

“In my four years, I’ve seen it change drastically with America’s Choice,” she said. “Pearson/America’s Choice made the teachers more aware of student effectiveness in the classroom. You become aware of, ‘How did I do it?’ and more aware of the results.”

Richmond County school system leaders think so highly of Pearson/America’s Choice, they are encouraging other schools to adopt it.

“Murphey Middle Charter School and Glenn Hills Middle School are in their second year of implementing the full America’s Choice/Pearson School Improvement design,” Bradshaw said. “Murphey feeds to Josey High School and Glenn Hills Middle feeds Glenn Hills High. Both Josey and Glenn Hills have included components of the America’s Choice design in their reform efforts.

“We believe this continuity will have very positive effects on student achievement.”

At Freedom Park, the middle school pupils are aware that the elementary pupils are watching and looking up to them. That includes Deja Micou, 11, a sixth-grader who has been at the school since fourth grade.

“It makes me feel smarter,” being in the middle school grades. “I know more than I did last year and will learn more things. I will get to do different things than the elementary school.”

Even though Lauren Silvis just came to Freedom Park this year, the eighth-grader managed to win an election as student body president. That makes her even more aware of how she carries herself.

“I try to be on my best behavior,” she said. “When we walk through the halls, we have to be really good role models for the little kids.”

Which one?

While K-8 schools do have the obvious advantage of elementary- and middle-grade teachers being in the same building, Hephzibah Middle educators say they compensate by reaching out to nearby Hephzibah Elementary and Hephzibah High schools.

Ultimately, it comes down to the teachers, no matter the configuration of the school, said Karen Mack, a sixth-grade English/language arts teacher at Hephzibah Middle.

“The teachers play a role in sixth grade. I love sixth grade,” she said. “I think my students would do well in a K-8 or 6-8. It depends on how you relate with your students, your teaching model.”

Hephzibah pupils expressed relief that they are not in the same building as much younger children.

“In K-8, the eighth-graders could pick on the kindergartners,” said Tayziir Ward, 12, a sixth-grader. “(Middle school) makes me feel more mature.”

“It would be hard with all the little kids and the big kids together,” said Alexis Hickory, 12, a sixth-grader. “It would get confusing.”

But that’s not how it plays out at Freedom Park, said Andrews, the principal.

“I encourage the middle school. I tell them they are my seniors,” she said. “I think they take that to heart and feel a sense of responsibility.”

Richmond County won’t make that decision – K-8 or middle school – any time soon.

“There are no current plans to make organizational changes in grade structures of Richmond County schools,” Bradshaw said. “Our efforts are focused on improving the delivery of instruction that will cause all students to learn content at deep levels and be able to apply that new content to new and unfamiliar tasks.

“Our schools must be models of collaboration and problem solving in order for students to be prepared and have choices about their future paths.”

MIDDLE SCHOOLS ARE FAILING PUPILS

A Harvard University study found that students who enter a middle school in sixth or seventh grade fare worse academically than their peers in a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school.

The study released in November, The Impact of Alternative Grade Configurations on Student Outcomes through Middle and High School, used test data from the Florida Department of Education to track students from third to 10th grade.

“We find that students entering middle school in grade 6 or 7 make larger achievement gains prior to middle school entry than those who do not enter middle schools,” the study says. “Moving to middle school, however, causes a substantial drop in their relative performance.”

That applied to both reading and math scores on Florida’s state tests. What’s more, the pupils never recovered from that drop in sixth or seventh grade.

“The achievement drops we observe as students move to both middle and high schools suggest that structural school transitions (or being in the youngest cohort in a school) adversely impact student performance,” the study finds.

“The magnitude and persistence of the effect of entering a middle school, however, suggests that such transitions are particularly costly for younger students or that middle schools provide lower quality education than K-8 schools for students in grades 6 to 8.”

– Jason Wermers, staff writer

To read the full report, go to www.edweek.org/media/gradeconfiguration-13structure.pdf.

Comments (26) Add comment
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Dixieman
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Dixieman 01/01/12 - 01:18 am
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Doesn't matter. Send them to

Doesn't matter. Send them to a good private school and watch them soar! Government schools = child abuse.

scoobynews
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scoobynews 01/01/12 - 08:20 am
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This study is useless as well

This study is useless as well as all others. Until parents start parenting you are beating a dead horse. Every child I have that is failing this year is doing so because a parent is not doing their job at home. Crappy parents usually = crappy student.

RunningMan
346
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RunningMan 01/01/12 - 09:06 am
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Parents that are involved and

Parents that are involved and committed are the key to a child's success in school and life. Unlike Dixieperson, many folks simply cannot afford private schools. And I must say that the DFA government school is 5th through 12th and one of the finest schools in the nation.

wondersnevercease
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wondersnevercease 01/01/12 - 10:49 am
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Not quite true
Unpublished

Not quite true scooby...middle school is a childhood killer...those 11 and 12 year olds need that extra year in Elementary school.......I am dealing with this right now...a lovely 11 year old with straight A's and over the top test scores is now submerged in the stupid drama of trying to be like the older kids...no problem with failing ..yet...but interest is waning in favor of what makeup she can get away with wearing,.............

RunningMan
346
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RunningMan 01/01/12 - 11:07 am
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With three girls, we went

With three girls, we went through the wonder years as well with hair, cloths, and makeup becoming a priority. Somehow, even with me being deployed, we made it through those years.

wondersnevercease
9218
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wondersnevercease 01/01/12 - 11:28 am
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I know they are growing up
Unpublished

I know they are growing up much quicker than their parents did....I had this same conversation when both of my daughters started Middle School many years ago......it just seems like it has gotten worse...to go from Barbie to "boyfriend" less than a month after school starts is just sad..............just to copy the older girls.

scoobynews
3896
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scoobynews 01/01/12 - 11:28 am
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Wonders I don't disagree with

Wonders I don't disagree with the concept that middle school can be a motivation or childhood killer but the ultimate root of the problem I see is uninvolved parents. The "wonder years" syndrome happens to all kids regardless and we also went through the same stage. Sometimes it only takes a failing grade or two to snap them back but unfortuately some will stay stuck in that mode. I saw a really sweet young girl with good grades in 6th grade turn into an failing grade boy crazy girl in 7th. She also came from a home were she was being raised by an aunt and the mother dropped in occasionally. Just a sad situation because she had a lot of potential. Haven't seen her in a while and I hope she got her life back straight.

AGR354
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AGR354 01/01/12 - 11:31 am
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Dixieman first of all name a

Dixieman first of all name a good private school and also find one that doesn't have the same problems as the public school. In South Carolina there is no middle school certification for teachers. Middle schools need to rethink their structure and yes parents need to be more involved with tier child's education. I am a high school teacher and it takes two years for our freshman and sophomores to get a way from that zoo they came from. STOP BLAMING THEIR HORMONES AND GIVE THEM SOME STRUCTURE

allhans
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allhans 01/01/12 - 12:06 pm
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I don't see pampering kids as

I don't see pampering kids as helping them. Let them learn now that life is not and never will be easy...

Bowtie355
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Bowtie355 01/01/12 - 01:51 pm
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AGR354, suggest you check the

AGR354, suggest you check the SC certification site - http://ed.sc.gov/agency/se/Educator-Certification-Recruitment-and-Prepar... see page 71 for the EIGHT middle level certifications available. I'll cast my vote with the previous posters that parents have as much to do with success or failure at any grade level. I do agree totally with your comment about structure, add to that routine, a strict dress code and swift punishment for students who choose to disobey the rules.

bailmeout4
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bailmeout4 01/01/12 - 01:51 pm
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need involved parents

need involved parents

Little Lamb
55515
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Little Lamb 01/01/12 - 02:03 pm
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Come on, Jason, your readers

Come on, Jason, your readers deserve a little better:

. . . pupils who went to a traditional middle school – a sixth- through eighth-grade configuration – fared worse academically than their peers who attended schools that are kindergarten through eighth grade. A quick glance at Richmond County test data from 2007 through 2010 would seem to bear that out, because C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet and Freedom Park, both of which are K-8 schools, outperformed most of the district’s middle schools, while W.S. Hornsby K-8 School fared worse. But Walker is a magnet school, attracting the most academically motivated pupils, and Freedom Park has some advantages – close-knit community, a more active and available set of parents – that come with being on a military post.

In the first place, you left out Collins school. Later in the article you note that Collins "added" grades six through eight, but you fail to include it in the K-8 data set. Why? Collins in one of the worst performing schools in a poorly performing system. Collins will soon (if not already) be classified ‘persistently dangerous.’

Walker is a magnet school, which can select the best and brightest students from across the entire county and, perhaps more importantly, can kick them out if they mess up the curve. You need to leave Walker out of the data set because magnet schools (which Columbia County News-Times publisher Barry Paschal characterizes as “quasi-public”) do not have to follow the rules of the remainder of public shcools.

Jason also provided good reasons above to leave Freedom Park school out of the data set.

So with Walker and Freedom Park out of the data set; and with Collins added back in; we can conclude absolutely nothing — and absolutely nothing is what this Harvard University study is worth.

Jason Wermers
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Jason Wermers 01/01/12 - 02:19 pm
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Little Lamb, I left Collins

Little Lamb, I left Collins out of the equation because the data I looked at were from 2007 to 2010. Collins by 2009-10 had added seventh grade and was not yet a K-8 school. The data for 2011, while available for purposes of AYP, were not yet finalized for purposes of Georgia's report card, which is why they are not included in my analysis. Had we been able to include the 2011 data, then yes, Collins would have been included in the K-8 schools list. Also, I did consider excluding some schools from the analysis because of their status, but I decided that, for the sake of completeness, none should be excluded, not even the special schools Augusta A&D and Lighthouse Care Center. Because of the various configurations of schools in Richmond County, I determined that the "all" approach was the best one to take.

augustadad
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augustadad 01/01/12 - 02:23 pm
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This is not new news; see

This is not new news; see your own coverage in 2005: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2005/11/13/op_22423.shtml

Parenting is an important ingredient, but so is getting the school configuration right. K-8's perform better in general in study after study.

Little Lamb
55515
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Little Lamb 01/01/12 - 02:30 pm
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Thank you for responding,

Thank you for responding, Jason, and I appreciate the dilemma you were in with which data to include and which to exclude. That in and of itself defines the problem:

The students move through the school system in a constant rate, like slow-moving slugs. The administrators, board members, and consultants like to tinker with the process around the fringes, however. That way, if there is any bad news to report, said "experts" can always say that they changed things recently and just wait; things will get better. That is why you will never be able to come to a conclusion about what methods are effective and what methods are junk. Overall Richmond County performance indicates that most of the methods employed by the school board administration with the blessing of the board of trustees have been junk.

augustadad
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augustadad 01/01/12 - 02:31 pm
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This is not new news. See

This is not new news. See Chronicle discussion from 2005: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2005/11/13/op_22423.shtml

Involved parents matter, but so do good schools, and K-8's have been outperforming other schools for years, as study after study has shown. It's really that simple. They aren't a magic answer, but they are better for students.

Little Lamb
55515
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Little Lamb 01/01/12 - 02:38 pm
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Virginia Bradshaw, the

Virginia Bradshaw, the district’s executive director of middle schools, said:

There are no current plans to make organizational changes in grade structures of Richmond County schools. Our efforts are focused on improving the delivery of instruction that will cause all students to learn content at deep levels and be able to apply that new content to new and unfamiliar tasks. Our schools must be models of collaboration and problem solving in order for students to be prepared and have choices about their future paths.

The first sentence is clear content; the rest is gobbledegook, or educratese. You can see here how Richmond County School Board avoids the controversy. They make a smorgasbord of the process. They hedge their bets. They have some K-8 schools and they have some middle schools. They have some zoned schools and some magnet schools. They even throw in charter schools for good measure. Hey, you can't blame the administrators for anything because they try everything!

cristinadh
6
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cristinadh 01/01/12 - 03:51 pm
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Parent Involvement = Student

Parent Involvement = Student Success!! bottom line!!

sewerbabe
78
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sewerbabe 01/01/12 - 07:52 pm
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This is a very good debate on

This is a very good debate on what needs to be changed for students to perform better. I'm curious has anyone ever studied schools where elementary is K-6, middle school 7-9, and high school 10-12?

RunningMan
346
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RunningMan 01/01/12 - 08:42 pm
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There is only so much blame

There is only so much blame for our children's education to go around. It starts and ends at home with parents involvement. Being in the military for a while, our family moved around a lot, and our kids went to many different public schools until they were in high school. Yes, there were a few problems with hair, makeup, boys, and grades, but nothing that could not be handled at home. Even if out daughters would have had a tough time, I would not blame the so called "government public school system".

scgator
1042
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scgator 01/01/12 - 09:54 pm
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Back when I was in school, it

Back when I was in school, it was called junior high and was only 8th and 9th grade; today we are forcing kids into an early environment that is trying to mature them at a faster rate for the sake of numbers. Yes, good parenting is a valuable asset, but so is consistent structure from the BOE. EVERY TIME a new survey comes out, they're ready to "spend the tax dollars" claiming progress as their justification. What these kids need are teachers who are more dependent on their own teaching abilities and talents instead of implementing the latest trial and error education ploys. There are MANY well qualified and talented teachers in the public school system who cannot teach because of having to constantly "jump through hoops" created by the hierarchy of the education system. As we used to say in the construction business......."if you have hired a qualified person for the job, LEAVE 'EM ALONE AND LET THEM DO THE JOB YOU HIRED THEM TO DO !!!!

fftaz71
109
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fftaz71 01/01/12 - 09:53 pm
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Bad grades does not always

Bad grades does not always equate to bad or uninvolved parents. Teachers want to blame the parents, parents blame the teachers. WHO is putting responsibility on THE STUDENT??

Little Lamb
55515
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Little Lamb 01/01/12 - 11:08 pm
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You asked a fair question,

You asked a fair question, SewerBabe. But the sad thing is that the public school system in the U.S. is too fragmented to make any studies meaningful. The school systems are in a flux. The No Child Left Behind law forces the school systems to experiment and shuffle things around. Hence, you cannot draw a conclusion on anything anymore.

Riverman1
117896
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Riverman1 01/01/12 - 11:14 pm
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Yep, the public middle

Yep, the public middle schools hurt children. So do the elementary and high schools.

Willow Bailey
20619
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Willow Bailey 01/01/12 - 11:28 pm
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sewerbabe, that is almost how

sewerbabe, that is almost how the school system worked locally. K-7 elementary; 8-9 middle, 10-12 high. It worked too well, so hence the changes.

the1sthadassah
0
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the1sthadassah 01/02/12 - 04:31 am
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We need educators put into

We need educators put into this equation.

Every person should be allowed the opportunity to discover things on their own. This is accomplished through the senses... touch, smell, taste, ... etc. Let the children reach their own conclusions. Let them attain on their own and independent of the parents... This can be implemented as young as 3 yrs old. This is not the military we're talking about. Instruction is so rigid... What children need is to just be helped to incorporate new images. The environment should be flexible. I prefer educators and them not in the normal sense of the term...

Recap; An eighth-grader, Lauren stated; "K-8 shows you are all treated the same way. You can be yourself, you don’t have to pretend."

This is a very good statement Lauren made... The educators must show an equal, balanced attitude toward everyone constantly... While guiding them in the direction they should go with the use of negative/positive influences involving all the other children. This influence would therefore be collectively. Here everyone is equal.

Numbers are important, but not these numbers.

There should be 2 educators working with 10 children alternately. Having just one educator has limited them. Let's keep them thinking, putting the peices of this vast world (as it was) together, increasing orientation, & helping the children to know how to act in new situations. We want them to be flexible, but one person instructing them for 5-6 years doesn't get it. Things need to be changing all the time... not just the educators that are next to the children, but the other children in the group, the surrounding setting, & the topics for discussion.

With say... 4 groups there would be 4 pairs of educators, & as they alternate... the children would be mixed up too. We need to prepare the children for community, this globally interconnected society. This way they will begin to understand everyone and develop relationships with anyone their next to in the environment. It's not good to form habits, but creativity should be encouraged. Let's get our children out of this rigid system that has set up so many boundaries.

Children need an up-bringing... Not the constant instructions that have to carried out to no end. A parent should not be the educator, nor interfer with the raising of the child. Right reactions are required from the parents... so they reassure the children about the different fascades of every environment... Stating to the child when needed...

Every environment is helpful.
Understanding of the environment is required.
Ensure that you are interacting correctly in the environment.
Environments always provoke some development on your part.

That's all parents need to do.

With educators in place parents should not raise their own children.

Parents are; Nurturing, Protectors, & Honored by the children.

Not Educators.

the1sthadassah
0
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the1sthadassah 01/03/12 - 03:06 am
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Duplicate;

Duplicate;

Willow Bailey
20619
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Willow Bailey 01/02/12 - 04:22 pm
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@the1sthadassah, what I hear

@the1sthadassah, what I hear you saying is that the typical school setting is not a realistic place and does not model real life circumstances. It robs them of many of their God given gifts, sets them up for a fake world, turns them into people pleasers, and crowd followers. To that end I agree.

What I don't agree with is your comments regarding the parents role in education. No, we shouldn't have to reteach them the academic lessons of the day. We should however, be very involved with helping them form their spiritual, cultural and worldly beliefs. Otherwise, we may as well hand them over to the government at age 3.

I am sure you didn't mean it this way, but the comment on the parent not interfering in the child's life reeks of governmental control and arrogance to say the least.

the1sthadassah
0
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the1sthadassah 01/03/12 - 03:57 am
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@ Willow Bailey... Thank you

@ Willow Bailey... Thank you for understanding... I would really appreciate the opportunity to explain what I mean for clarification; When I said...

Right reactions are required from the parents... so they reassure the children about the different fascades of every environment... Stating to the child when needed...

Every environment is helpful.
Understanding of the environment is required.
Ensure that you are interacting correctly in the environment.
Environments always provoke some development on your part.

That's all parents need to do.

To explain; Development which occurs in a social environment, outside of the home... is good... that we agree... ok

Let's say my child comes home emotionally upset because of some things that happened. I don't feel I can truly analyse the situation. This would be correctly accomplished through discussion & interactions in the environment where it occurred. Let the children learn to debate among their peers. So what do I do then... I hug my child... that's enough.

Government... Nooo!

Parents see (via Cameras Live-Stream) everything that is going on in the environment... that's not a governmental idea. We want to know our children are safe, what's happening, and how our children are interacting. The schools hide these things from us. Why?

I know that if I were satisfied with my child's surroundings I would just give the confidence needed, be loving, caring, & gentle... knowing that is all that is required of me. I would not need to raise my children. We can not create the above stated environment for our children at home... & so they would never develop into a person ... a human being in society... only society can do that. Parents need to let go after 2 years old... let the child out of the corner of protection... surrounded by mom and dad.

By age 13 the child will be in college.

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