Letter: Get students engaged in school
I agree with many of the points Basalt Middle School teacher Craig Macek made in his letter to the editor this week (“Keep high standards alive,” The Aspen Times, March 16). We should have high standards for our students, and it is important for parents to be actively engaged in schools so their kids can be successful. We should be collecting and analyzing data to ensure our kids succeed in school. But educators’ preoccupation with standardized testing means they are not focusing on the data that really count. There are many no- or low-cost changes that could be made in the schools in fall that would have an immediate positive impact on student success.
This week, Aspen Community Foundation announced the result of a poll of 2,000 local students. Only 57 percent said they were engaged in school. Clearly, there is a lot of room for improving student engagement. Food and sleep are the most basic building blocks of academic success, but there is no school policy to facilitate these healthy habits.
My daughter attended Basalt Middle School and told me many eighth graders did not eat breakfast. I asked the principal to do a breakfast survey. He discovered about half of the seventh- and eighth-grade kids are not eating breakfast each day. Until this simple problem is solved at all schools, it isn’t possible to have high-level engagement in classrooms. Most kids do not get enough sleep, either. Instead of magazine-sales contests, why aren’t all classrooms having breakfast-eating contests and tracking their sleeping hours?
Third-grade reading ability is the most accurate marker of future academic success in middle and high school. Kids who don’t read proficiently are destined to struggle. All schools need to build an army of volunteer reading buddies. If a child reads out loud to a volunteer for 30 minutes a day for 10 weeks, they can gain one grade level in reading ability. Teachers spend hours each week entering data into an online parent portal that most parents do not use. This time could be better spent having engaging parent-student conferences every eight weeks. A sense of school community could be fostered if parent groups host family potlucks at the schools every quarter.
There are other no-cost changes that have huge benefits for kids. Having recess before lunch rather than afterward, can result in more fruits and vegetables being eaten and an extra 15 minutes of classroom instruction time because kids come back to class relaxed and ready to learn (Google “NYTimes recess lunch”). We also should go back to a traditional elementary classroom system. At schools such as Basalt Elementary, kids as young as first grade lose about 30 minutes of instruction time each day because they are switching classes multiple times like high schoolers. Kids thrive when they feel loved and nurtured and they have a strong bond with their teacher. When I went to elementary school, I was in one class all day with the same 25 kids, and my teacher knew everything about my achievement level, my family situation, my potential and my interests.
Let’s de-emphasize standardized testing and put our collective energies into common-sense, low-cost solutions that will ensure every child in our community is truly ready for college and career.
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