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I finished reading your blog with tears brimming in my eyes. Although, some of my tears were for the students, most were for you. This is one time I can honestly say "I feel your pain". I followed my students from 7th grade to high school to see many of them soar academically and then seemingly torpedo down into a place of misbehavior, total disconnection, and in many cases, dropping out of school. What deep pain it caused for me to actually watch this happening feeling like all of my efforts were for nought.

Yet, there is always a "ram in the bush" as the old church mother's used to say.

Betsy Rogers, you have not failed your students because your students have not finished "becoming". I used to tell my students..."where you are is not where you are going". I want you to know Betsy that while the seeds you have planted in the students and faculty of Brighton may appear not to bear fruit, this does not have to be the case. For some students, your efforts are what keeps them holding on and coming back. Yes, you know things could be better; you know that your rising 6th graders deserve more and that people in high places have seemingly stripped them of even the opportunity to succeed. Yet, children are resilient even in the most wickedly unfair environments.

Oh no, Betsy, you have not failed them. In fact, your efforts have provided them the tools they need to succeed in a world presented to them with the cup less than half-full.

True story: I saw Adam L. in the airport in Charlotte, NC recently. He was one of the most difficult students I ever taught in 7th-10th grade. In the 11th grade, he was placed in a G.E.D. program, and even though he failed my 10th grade English course, he still came back to me for help in preparing for his G.E.D. which I gladly did. When I saw Adam in that airport, we both gasped, as he is now going on his 4th or 5th year in the United States Army, and we had not seen each other since 2002. He proudly told his army friends all about me and thanked me. He said, "You never gave up on me, Ms. B. and I never forgot the things you taught me." We exchanged cell phone numbers and one day I received a message from him proudly and with several errors reciting the first stanza of "The Raven". Now this brought me to tears because we battled over that in the 8th grade.:-)

While I don't have hundreds of Adam L. stories to tell, I do have several. And, it always amazes me that when I think I have done all I can do and yet it was not enough or when I feel my level or reach of influence has maxed out, one of my students reminds me that what I did daily as a teacher was sew seeds...some that will bloom before my eyes and to my delight...and others that will experience long winters before blossoming...and still others whose fates I will never know. Still, sewing those seeds ensures that I am not a failure.

Going to Brighton and influencing teachers and administrators and teaching students and building relationships with parents and communities....there can be no failure in that, Betsy. Only hope for and belief in the Spring.

Sometimes we only see what kids don't get in a particular situation. We fail to see what they do get. It causes us to jump to inferior situations many times. Adults do that all the time with their lives and wanting what others have, while failing to see what they have that others do not.

K-8 schools are being returned to in cities across the country, because of what they give that middle schools and jr. highs don't. And what K-8's give is worth more than what the middle schools have in terms of community, safety, emphasis on what is most important instead of diverting to lesser value but flashy programs and classes.

K-8 schools keep the family involved better and produce MUCH better behavior than middle schools. In fact middle schools are almost always the worst time in students' K-12 experience. I think perhaps the worst "reform" we ever made in public education was creating jr. highs. A K-8, 9-12 or perhaps better a K-6, 7-12 configuration is much better than having a middle school at all. Please see http://www.smallerschools.org/smallSchools.php for two articles on K-8 schools that may give a different light on them. K-8's and 7-12's produce better people in the end, even if they don't offer as much variety in classes.

Dear Betsy,

Thanks for sharing this story. I gasped, too, at the powerful and frightening language and imagery in your Young Author's books.

A friend recently completed her dissertation on the concept of "deservingness" --the idea that students whose literacy and numeracy skills are low don't "deserve" what are often considered standard accouterments in most schools, such as sports, elective classes, musical groups, drama, clubs, etc.. Sometimes, deservingness extends to secondary courses-- where students in low-achieving schools double up on reading and math and aren't allowed to enroll in science, social studies and vocational classes, because you don't deserve to take those classes until you have met grade-level benchmarks for reading and math. Many of the kids who didn't leave school, hoping to take Auto Repair or Cosmetology find themselves labeled as not deserving of even that opportunity. Given the strong progress your students have made, to deny them the benefits other kids will enjoy seems short-sighted, to say the least.

With all due respect to Mr. Cox, the research on K-8 schools is pretty murky. It turns out that grade configuration means a great deal less than the quality of leadership, teaching and programming in building successful schools for kids in the middle. When you look at current thinking on 21st century learning --creativity, collaboration, technology--it makes little sense to keep young adolescents in a rigid, K-8 structure. And I say that as a K-8 educator myself.

I cannot fathom how your 111 middle schoolers could become "better people" by knowing that other middle schoolers get lots of educational opportunities and they don't, largely because they're poor. I'm glad you're staying with them, Betsy, but the situation you describe is just wrong.

I want to thank all of your for your comments.
David, I do understand there is resurgence of K-8 school in some areas. I personally attended a K-8 school, but at that time all schools in my school district were K-8. There is a part of me that would selfishly like to keep the Brighton children together for 8 years, as I am very protective of our students.
However, I realize how this limits their educational experiences. Our students have expressed their own frustration at not having a variety of opportunities. I am at a loss for words when they ask me “Why don’t we have what other schools have?”
Here is what they know is offered at the neighboring middle school that we do not offer due to our small population and limited faculty and staff.
Art Club
Debate Club
Drama Club
First Priority
National Honor Society
Pep Squad
Photography Club
Technology Team
Girls Basketball
Newcomb Volleyball
Track (Girls and Boys)

In addition, the two other neighboring elementary schools feed into this middle school, which in turn feeds into the high school that most of our students attend. Since our students are not a part of the middle school, they are automatically set apart when they arrive at the high school. A local reporter asked some of the high school students about this issue and they responded that our students are labeled “the Brighton Kids”. (I wrote about this in my June 2007 blog.)
My first year at Brighton a teacher from this high school said to me when referring to their school’s test scores, “I guess we don’t do too bad considering we have your kids.” It is this prejudice about our students along with the lack of opportunities and the fact that our data tells us many of our 8th graders leave our school unprepared that has convinced me as Nancy states, “ This situation you describe is just wrong.”

In support of Nancy's post, there's a good essay on grade configurations by Hayes Mizell, co-founder of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform that develops her point that it's not the grade structure, it's the quality of the school community:


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