Back in School – and What’s New Now?
By Edith Morgan
Now that parents are breathing a sigh of relief, and children are firmly ensconced in their respective schools, we can all breathe out and get onto other things. How about a little reminiscing? We all know the jokes about grandparents telling their grandchildren that they walked miles uphill through wind and snow, and if you’re old enough, maybe there are tales about having to sweep out the one-room schoolhouse, bringing in the wood for the pot-bellied stove, and sharing slates, books and notebooks with younger children. The whole idea is to share how MUCH schooling has changed in the last few decades, and still is changing constantly.
Not all the changes are for the best – the incessant drilling to learn useless stuff to answer inane questions on standardized tests so that schools, children and teachers can be rated and berated, for rather murky reasons, for the benefit of people who have ulterior motives – all that time and expense could be better spent on meaningful testing to improve or correct learnings. But that is a topic for another time …
At this point, we need to look at how far we have come from the one-size fits all model of yore and how much closer we are to tailoring the school so that EVERY student can learn and achieve his/her highest potential.
We breathed a sigh of relief this year, as the WPS teachers’ contract was ratified, and our busses also started out on time. Now we can concentrate on our students and meet their needs.
It is no longer true (generally, anyway) that the child has to be ready for school. We have gradually, little by little, moved over to a philosophy that the school needs to be ready for the student, at whatever level he/she comes to us. Worcester has made giant steps in that direction.
We have just opened a new, state-of-the-art elementary school at Nelson Place; we have gradually replaced or refurbished many older buildings, and are planning constantly for newer, better buildings.
And while great new buildings with many facilities are a big help, there are many things that our schools are now offering to students that were strictly the responsibility of parents or neighborhoods. Research has shown us that children need certain minimal supports to be able to take advantage of all that is offered to them so they can succeed. We can no longer assume that there is a level playing field out there and that every child has access to a good breakfast, clean clothes and a quiet, stress-free place to study. Children who have all these things can profit from all that the school curriculum and the teachers offer.
But over the years, teachers and principals have noticed children who come to school tired, bedraggled, worried and hungry.
Of course, there have been the critics who say that it is not the job of the school to remedy these deficiencies. But the cost of ignoring these problems was/is too great, and the waste of potential too costly for us to wait for others to take up the slack.
So, in a number of instances, schools have stepped in to properly equip our children to be really ready to learn. We have, in addition to lunch programs (some at reduced price, some free), we also have some breakfast programs where needed; several of our Worcester high schools have food pantries, where students can take home extra (donated) food – and some take bags to get through the weekend for their families. “Andy’s Attic” at South High School is just one example of how schools see that our students have appropriate clothing (we all can probably remember how painful it was to be improperly dressed and suffering the taunts of fellow students). Not all our students come from homes that have washers and dryers, and sometimes they have to wear the same soiled outfits for days. So our schools are trying to help by installing washers and dryers in selected schools – like those at Worcester East Middle School.
I applaud these additions, as they enable students to be comfortable, clean, and accepted by their peers.
Of course, a sick child also is really handicapped as far as learning: if you hurt, feel awful, or are otherwise not running on all cylinders, much of your time in class is wasted. So our schools have a health clinic where most needed.
Finally, now that we are doing many things to be sure that all our children are in school ready to learn what we believe they should know, we can fully concentrate on the main purpose of education. And there is much to be done yet in the area of curriculum, if we really mean to turn out mature, thinking individuals who can succeed in a rapidly changing society.
There has been much lamenting about the fact that we do not read books like we once did. And while our many gadgets require some ability to read and spell, they do not require the ability to really delve deeply or sustain attention page after page. But even there, with the competition from the electronic media, great efforts are being made to put books into the hands of our children. We are, after all, “The City that Reads” – and Worcester School Committee member and former Belmont Community School principal John Monfredo and his wife Anne Marie, a former Nelson Place Elementary School teacher, have for years collected children’s books and put them into the hands of our students. Every year they collect tens of thousands of children’s books and distribute them to Worcester kids, especially those from poor families.
And, finally, we are very fortunate that we have a school superintendent who has been involved in these ventures, supports those who create new opportunities for our children, and always looks for ways to be sure that every child has the opportunity to realize his/her full potential.
With a local election on the horizon, we can show up to vote for school committee members who best exemplify the goals I have described above!