Smaller classes, longer days among ideas for president By: Jean Marbella


November 13, 1991

Uh, kids, read his lips: President Bush wanted your ideas on how to improve school.

School. Not sports.

"There should be less homework during the week so students can have time to join clubs and participate in sports activities. . . . There should be no homework on the weekends since the majority of sports practices and other activities are on either Friday, Saturday, or Sunday."

School. Not when you get to drive.

"School should not be extended to a whole year. . . . Students [would] cover two grades each year. They would finish school in half the time. Then they would go to college, too young to drive. Do we really feel that 13 and 14 year olds are capable of driving?"

School. Not making money.

"After school jobs are also a good idea. . . . To make room for these jobs school could be shortened three hours . . ."

Is there a common thread here?

Those are some of the ideas we received when, following President Bush's lead, we asked students to write or call us with ideas on how to improve schools. We received 32 letters from students at Hereford Middle School in Monkton, two from a Baltimore address, one from a class at Franklin Elementary School in Reisterstown and four calls on SUNDIAL, The Sun's telephone information service.

The White House did a bigger volume -- it has received about 15,000 letters since the president solicited suggestions during a speech last month, a spokeswoman said. Each week, President Bush receives a large sample of the letters, and staff members are currently compiling a report for the president on some of the best ideas received, the spokeswoman said.

Some of the ideas, the spokeswoman said, were more discipline in the classroom, longer school days more substantive homework and new academic clubs.

The suggestions we received ranged wildly -- from installing air conditioning to creating more gifted and talented programs to shortening periods to not requiring animal dissections to banning corporal punishment.

Several kids told us they'd like smaller classes.

"Make the student to teacher ratio smaller," advised Brydie Andrews, adding that students at all levels would benefit -- especially those who might otherwise "slip through the cracks of the school system."

Homework really took a beating from many kids.

"Students spend six hours a day in school, thirty hours a week, which does not include at least two to three hours of homework for an average student. Being a student and socializing with many others, I have come to realize that students don't have enough free time for extracurricular activities. More free time is important, because growing children need more fresh air and exercise . . ." said Kirsten A. Carroll, one of our Hereford Middle correspondents.

Some kids actually wanted -- gasp! -- more school time.

"To improve our school, I think we should have study periods, when we can meet with our teachers or classmates for help or work on group projects. Study periods would be a time to get homework done or do research in the library. I think this is a good idea even if the school day is longer," wrote Brooke Lang.

A couple of students seemed to think president Bush was responsible for hiring teachers.

"Mr. President: Please hire teachers that care about people. There are some teachers in the system that care only about soap opera," wrote Larissa Michele Henderson.

In the same envelope, we received this from Natasha Marie Henderson: "Could you hire teachers that make sure that a student understands what is being taught. Some one could be afraid to ask questions, out of fear that a teacher might act like Lerch the butler on the old Adams family. Yessss! Things that make you go "hmmmmmm." (We understand, Natasha. Completely.)

A very polite group of third-graders at Franklin Elementary in Reisterstown wrote President Bush because they "have some things to tell you." Among those things: smaller classes, more teachers, more computers, longer math classes, more interesting books and more rewards for students who try hard.

"We wish you could come to our school. We hope you have a nice day. [Signed,] Your friends from Mrs. King's class."

Perhaps President Bush will visit and explain his views on education -- and perhaps the students will tell their parents all about it.

A recent poll found that three out of four parents are unaware of national education goals set by the president and the country's governors for students to meet by the year 2000. Only 7 percent of the 792 parents polled could even name one of the six goals, which include passing competency tests in subjects such as science, math and English, reducing the dropout rate and ridding the schools of drugs and violence.

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