The Riot Act?

Connie has absolutely no interest in the sporting events that draw the Parent Imperfect to the television (football, basketball and baseball, for example), but the Olympics exert a strange power over her. Yesterday, she took a rare nap in the PM after a very late night at her friend’s birthday party, but then spent hours glued to the pairs figure skating, the mogles, speed skating and whatever else was on offer. This from a child who can easily go a month without watching any TV at all.

On Saturday, she and her mother went to Wheelock for her costume fitting for her upcoming role in The Little Mermaid. She’ll be a crab with little to say. Connie couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity. The PI shares her excitement, but wonders what it will be like to have to get her to the other end of the Jamaicaway every night for a month for rehearsal. Carpooling seems like a great idea…

Now it is time for the PI to turn back to the letter he received from the Hernández about why Connie should stay there, rather than go to the Advanced Work Class. The second argument in the letter was:

“2. We have a good track record of 6th graders entering the three exam schools–Boston Latin, Boston Latin Academy and O’Bryant School of Science and Technology. Generally those studends who remain at our school for 6th will again be eligible for the exam schools. Some families have even by-passed going to exam schools in 7th and entered exam schools in 9th grade.”

The PI knows well that this is true. Vince stayed at the Hernández for 6th grade and ended up at the nation’s oldest public high school for 7th. Last year, 4 of the 31 sixth graders from the RHS got into exam schools. This is something like 13%, which one imagines is close to the average for non-AWC sixth graders. In the AWC at the Washington Irving Middle School in Roslindale, all 23 sixth graders were admitted to exam schools. That percentage is easier to calculate.  The PI is trying to determine those percentages for the entire system, but those numbers are hard to find.

But the reason to keep Connie at the Hernández has to be the quality of the experience in those grades, not the fact that she has a larger or smaller chance of getting into the exam schools if she stays.

Vince’s educational experience in 4th and 5th grades was uneven, but generally pretty good. Those two grades are “looped” at the RHS, so he had the same teachers for both grades. For a number of reasons, 6th grade was much less positive. The elementary to middle school transition is a difficult one throughout the BPS system, and the RHS is no exception, even though students can stay in the same building during the transition.

There is a big debate about the value of K-8 schools (such as the Hernández, versus middle schools that house only grades 6-8. Some studies suggest that there are real advantages to the K-8 model, while other research concludes just the opposite.The BPS is definitely moving slowly toward the K-8 model.

In the case of the RHS, there is clearly a huge difference between the educational environment of the elementary and middle school grades. Part of that stems from the fact that parents with options (like the PI) move their children out of the school before 6th grade, but it is also true that the school administration has not been able to take steps to solve some of the problems present in grades 6-8.

The PI will never forget the first day of school when Connie entered second grade and Vince entered sixth. The opening ceremony for the whole school had the feel of a pep rally where the sense of excitement about the possibilities of a new year were palpable. Then, the elementary students and virtually all of the parents filed out and the staff assembled the middle school students to read them the Riot Act about what would happen if they messed up academically, or got caught with cellphones or didn’t follow the school dress code. Huddled in the corner of the auditorium, Liz and the PI were the only parents present (they probably shouldn’t have been there). The PI  recalls not a single statement in that meeting about the exciting learning that would happen in the coming year. The rest of the year quite faithfully reflected what happened on Day One.

Finally, just to complete the picture of a system lacking good options, one family did make the move last year from the RHS to the Curley School for sixth grade AWC. After the experience, the mother of that family reported that, in terms of academics, “the move wasn’t worth it. If we had it to do over, we would stay at the Hernández.”

So…go figure. The argument that some RHS students do get into the exam schools after 6th grade is absolutely true, but the argument that RHS is able to provide a consistently positive educational experience for grades 4-6 is less convincing. The budget cuts that loom on the horizon aren’t going to make it any easier to do so.

Thanks to those who have read these things and talked to the PI about it. All feedback helps!

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