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Monday, March 29, 2004

Dear citizens of Sikeston,

I am writing in concern to a decision made by the administration of Sikeston Public Schools and approved by the school board this past week. They have passed a new policy to eliminate the grouping of children at the sixth grade level according to their desire to attend college prep courses or attend the regular course of study. This is a cause of real concern to me for many reasons.

I am a parent of three children, all who attend or have attended Sikeston Public Schools. I have personally worked with children of all ages and academic levels for 25 years. It has been my experience that children in Sikeston respond to learning in many different ways. Some are motivated to learn intrinsically. They just want to know and learn academic lessons out of the sheer joy of learning and interest in a particular subject area. Certainly they are more interested and successful when the teacher presents the material in an interesting and inviting way. When that fails to occur, as it sometimes regretfully does, they still learn because they are motivated to do so within themselves.

Then there are those who are motivated extrinsically. These children have to be given a reason to learn. They have to be given experiences that make learning a certain subject real and important to their everyday lives. They have to be taught many every day terms that many of us take for granted. It may take several weeks to develop a real understanding of concepts that are missing in their everyday lives. These children require very special teachers that invite trust, patience and real concern for the individual child as a person, not a test score.

I am sure that there is plenty of research that shows evidence that children all score higher on tests when all are provided with an enriched curriculum. However, one could find research to prove anything they wish if they look hard enough. Just look at the diet world, for instance. There is evidence that the Florida Beach Diet, Atkins, Sugar Busters, low-fat and just plain old counting calories can all make you lose weight, yet obesity is fast becoming the number one killer by choice in America. Why is this? Because it is a matter of motivation and individual make-up.

We must teach our children according to their individual needs and level of interest. We must challenge the more academically motivated children and teach at the pace of mastery for their success in their areas of interest. We must restructure our curriculum in the regular classes to provide more experiences and hands-on learning for their individual needs. It has been my experience that when children's needs are not met, whether they are frustrated by too difficult of assignments or bored by too simplistic instruction, discipline problems escalate. This is certainly not the outcome we desire.

Middle School teachers have a unique challenge. At age 12, the age of the average sixth grader, a child goes through many changes: mental, emotional, physical and social. These changes often override the importance of getting an education. It is a difficult task to gear these children's interest to learning when so many other things are going on in their lives. We must not forsake their individual aptitudes for learning at this crucial time in their lives. We must work with them, show them we care about them as individuals and strive to teach them in the way that they learn. This is a time when we must meet them three-fourths of the way instead of half way. To ask middle school teachers to teach all of the children the enriched curriculum at the same pace is unfair and unreasonable, in my opinion.

I urge you all to think about this and consider speaking up as a citizen to express your individual view on this subject. We cannot accept this change unless it is truly what is best for all of our children. It is my personal opinion that this is not the solution to our problem of raising test scores. To me, the solution is more individualized instruction rather than more group instruction.

Just a point to ponder as I close, why does our federal government spend so many of our education dollars on remedial class instruction if it is best to teach all of our children the same concepts at the same pace? Shouldn't we possibly consider, rather, extending the remedial services into the middle school level if there is such a problem and a need for those services? Just something to think about.

Thank you for your time.

A concerned parent and citizen