At first, I stood there in awe as each car or bus door opened and the children inside rushed to get out and run into the school, anticipation written all over their faces.
I had gone to Perez Elementary in McAllen for their Friday morning assembly the week before Thanksgiving. My students held a nine-week American Sign Language Camp at Perez, and they were going to lead their camp students in a performance. As I stood outside waiting for my students to arrive, my mood suddenly changed from awe to sadness.
What happens between elementary school and high school? Why is it that the elementary students practically jump out of the car before their parents stop in their haste to get inside and begin learning, but if you pull up to most middle and high schools, the students seem to drag themselves out of the car and into the building? What happens?
So many different explanations began swimming through my mind:
• In elementary school, most parents still set bedtimes for their children, so their brains are well-rested and ready to tackle the day’s delivery of knowledge.
• For years, on the first day of school when I gave my students a personal questionnaire to complete, only a handful had no response to the questions, “What is your favorite book?” and “Who is your favorite author?” Today, it’s a different story. Now, only a handful of students have a favorite book and author. Many high school students despise reading, and that troubles me greatly. I think about the adventure, the history, the whimsy, and the fantasy they are missing, and I can’t help but think there is no way they can derive the same pleasure from texting and surfing the internet. What has caused this shift? Is it that most of the reading they have to do in middle school and high school does not appeal to them? Is it that reading wasn’t encouraged from the time they were babies? Is it possible to find articles and books that inspire and interest them so we can reverse this trend? Or is it just another sign of the changing times?
• Is it our obsession with the TAKS? Benchmarks, TAKS readings, TAKS practice. TAKS, TAKS, TAKS. Sure, the TAKS is on its way out, but will this obsession merely be replaced with EOC (End-Of-Course) craziness? Does this have anything to do with the change in attitude toward school?
• Is it that the style of teaching isn’t fast-paced enough to match their lifestyles? I attended a workshop with a professor from UTPA who actually created lessons involving texting, and he said his students’ enthusiasm rises during these lessons. With the constant decrease in education budgets, how do we build the technology in our schools that may enhance the way courses are taught?
I’m not sure if the answer to my original question is one of these, a combination, or something else all together, but finding the answer to “What happened?” isn’t enough. We must then discover a way to change without lowering our standards any further. Could part of the answer be to follow foreign models of education that have some students on a college-bound track and others on a certification track, acknowledging that not every student wants to go to a four-year college, and if a student doesn’t, he or she should be able to graduate with a certificate in a career/technology field like plumbing, web design, cosmetology, automotive repair, welding, electrical, HVAC, or telecommunications and networking?
These are the tough questions we need to be asking. Is it possible to have a school system where middle and high school students can’t wait to get out of the car or off the bus and begin a day of learning?
There must be a way.
Chris Ardis is in her 27th year of teaching, 26 of those with McAllen ISD. Visit her web site at www.chrisardis.com for education news and to read articles by McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez, Shelley Bryant, Edna Posada, Dr. Ben Aguilar and Lorena Castillo.