So maybe I’m sentimental. This whole Wells Road/Kelly Lane reconfiguration proposition is really getting me down. I spent half of the 1970’s at Wells Road School. Back then, it was first through fifth grade. Everyone knew everybody. By the time you made it to the far end of the hall, you were in the fifth grade and every teacher in the school knew you. The principal knew your whole family. The school nurse knew your medical peculiarities. The librarian knew your literary preferences. And you sure as heck knew how to hold on to the ‘Liberty Bell’ on the playground without falling off and breaking a limb. By the time I reached the fifth grade, my sister was midway down the hall in third, and my little brother was just starting out in first.
Well, things change. Some years ago, the first through fifth trio of Kearns, Kelly and Wells reconfigured to Kearns K-2, Wells and Kelly 3-5. When the new middle school (6-8) started busting at the seams, the sixth grade was moved down to Wells Road and Kelly Lane. And now, in the same year that we’ve added full –day kindergarten and a preschool class to Kearns, there’s a proposal on the table to reconfigure Wells and Kelly so that one school houses the third and fourth grade, and one takes on the fifth and sixth. (We’re also building a new athletic facility, shifting to a completely new state-mandated teacher review process, and adopting the new common core curriculum….but who doesn’t love change?)
Proponents for the reconfiguration argue several points. These seem to be the big ones:
Teacher Collaboration and Consistency of Practices. If all the teachers of one grade are in the same school, they have more opportunity to collaborate, and there will be fewer variations in teaching practices and academic outcomes between the two schools. Teacher collaboration is great, but so is modern technology. Volumes can be shared across continents. Perhaps not 100% as effectively as ‘being there’, but we can get pretty darn close. Folks at a recent PTO meeting (where this was the main topic) were told that when students from Kelly Lane and Wells Road reconvene at the middle school in seventh grade, there is no discernible difference in their academic performances. A parent at the meeting also pointed out that if we do notice differences in the academic performances between Kelly and Wells, isn’t that a prime opportunity to compare and improve? Raise the bar? I’m speculating that the new Common Core Curriculum is going to leave little wiggle room for content variations. Differences in teaching styles and particular classroom experiences should be welcomed – we’re not trying to produce clones, are we? (Anyone else having visions of Star-Bellied Sneetches?)
Swing Streets. Because of fluctuating populations and demographics, certain streets in town are designated ‘swing streets’. Some families attend Kelly Lane, while a neighbor might attend Wells Road, all depending on the balance of children in any given year. Yes, this would be frustrating….not knowing for certain which school your children are going to attend after Kearns. Once a child enters third grade at a school, however, they will continue in that same school and their siblings follow suit. The swing street neighborhood may or may not be divided between Kelly and Wells. In the proposed reconfiguration, every street would be divided between Kelly and Wells.
Friends are not in the same schools. Students are together with their entire grade in Kearns, then split up between Kelly and Wells, then come back together in middle school. This is true. When children do not attend the same school with their friends, they will not see their friends during the school day. There is still opportunity for after-school play dates, weekend socializing, clubs and sports, but the effort to maintain those friendships has to be a bit more deliberate. For some children this separation can be very difficult. On the other hand (there’s always another hand), sometimes it’s an opportunity to make new friends. Sometimes the separation breaks up some not-so-healthy cliques
From what I’ve seen and heard and read, those seem to be the big ticket items. Well, there is one more elephant in the room, which I sincerely didn’t even know was there until all this began. It seems a lot of people are under the misconception that one school is better than the other. If you look at the test scores (which seems to be a pretty popular method of judging all things academic these days), then, well, it’s about even. There’s a bit of ebb and flow – sometimes one school’s a little higher, then it switches, or maybe third grade is better in one, and fifth in another on any given year. And then there’s the ‘lack of discernible difference’ when the students get to seventh grade.
Kelly Lane has an official “Blue Ribbon”. Wells Road has been home to the (district-wide) Teachers of the Year for the past three years. “Kelly Kids Care” and at Wells, “Kindness Matters”. Kelly has a Game Night and gathers items for the food pantry, Wells has a Harvest Festival and raises money for the community kitchen. The unified arts teachers at the two schools (music, art, band, etc) are the same people. I’m not really sold on the ‘everybody gets a trophy’ philosophy – isn’t a wee bit of healthy competition good for everyone? Keeps us on our toes?
All this being said, my real intention here was not to negate the reasons for reconfiguration, but to focus on why I feel things shouldn’t be changed: the existing model of grades 3 through 6 in the same school is simply better for the children. Some reasons why….
When four grades are together, it’s more likely that siblings and neighbors will be in the same school. While this is logistically convenient for parents, it’s (more importantly) better for the children. Sure, we don’t want to split up friends when they leave Kearns School, but in a culture that’s constantly pulling families apart, isn’t it equally valuable to keep family together?
The proposed change would mean that children attend 5 different schools during their 13 years in the district. For many children, adjusting to a new school is challenging. For some, it takes 6 months for them to really start coming out of their shells. One parent said to me “Getting used to a new school is no small thing. I think the mental energy expended transitioning to a new school would be better used in actual learning.”
Parents are more vested in a school when they are there for a longer period of time. Personal relationships are simply stronger . As an active volunteer, I am simply more inclined to participate when I know my children are going to be there for a while….and much more likely to help in a school when I have more than one child there at a time. There’s less re-inventing of the wheel, and more getting things done.
Children are able to develop better relationships with school personnel. Whether it’s the school nurse, the librarian, the custodians, the office staff, the psychologist or the teaching assistants – they all make a difference in the child’s educational experience. Familiarity increases effectiveness. For children receiving special services, the benefits of familiarity and continuity over a longer period of time are magnified.
There is more cohesiveness within the grade in the existing model. It is much easier to connect with 80 other 5th graders than with 160 at one time. For many children, that means more sense of belonging. Less likely to be lost in the crowd…little fish, big ocean. Kids have a greater opportunity to shine.
There is a greater sense of community when there are four grades together. The older children can be role models, the younger ones have people to look up to. At Wells Road School there is a “Houses” program where each student is assigned to a particular “house”, led by a teacher or administrator. Houses meet about once a month for projects or discussions – and each house consists of students from all four grades. Students communicate and develop friendships with children of other ages. (You know, like grown-ups do in real life.)
Finally, there is the bus situation. Logistical nightmare. Hour-long bus rides are commonplace for our boys, but I try not to complain because many friends have even longer rides. The proposed reconfiguration would not alleviate the current busing challenges, and could make things worse. At one of the informational meetings it was mentioned that increased costs of busing could be offset by eliminating redundancies in staffing. As one mom wrote, “In what educational scenario do fewer teachers and more busing costs equal a better education for our children?”
So, in a nutshell (OK, this is a big nut), that’s my two cents. And some good sense from other people. Wells Road School and Kelly Lane School are fabulous little communities where our children are growing, thriving, learning and belonging. Change is good, but if we change those schools, I’m afraid we’re going to lose a lot of little but important things and we won’t be able to get them back.