A New School Year Ain't Just Kid Stuff

COMMENT

August 29, 1993|By KEVIN THOMAS

OK, it's over.

Tomorrow, the kids go back to school, summer unofficially ends and the daily rituals begin.

Have they had breakfast? Are their lunches made? Are their backpacks ready? Did they forget their violins? Did they brush their teeth? How will they ever get to the bus on time?

This isn't the fast lane, no glamour or glitz.

This is Parenthood 101. The basics.

In a while, we'll settle in and start surveying the scene. Just what does the school system have in store for us this year, because this isn't just about educating the kids. Parents are given their own coursework to do, and it ain't Mickey Mouse stuff for sure.

I predict that the hot topic this year is going to be year-round schools.

Sometimes, I think school officials just dream up these things to test everybody.

The idea of year-round schools is not to have schools running all year. There will be breaks, but they'll probably come in intervals every nine weeks. And they'll probably last about three weeks, not the 2 1/2 months students currently get for summer break.

Now I don't know about other parents, but this plan would put a serious crimp in summer vacations. Vacations in the fall and winter are fine depending on which direction on the compass you're headed. But what fun is that when the rest of the world -- including the people you're likely to visit -- remains on the traditional schedule.

And pity the teachers who have to keep track of which group of students they are teaching at any given time, given that pupils' schedules will be staggered so that no more than a quarter of the students are in school at any one time. Teachers are already saying they want more pay for the additional work this plan would require, and they have my sympathies.

Some officials are trying to sell this idea by saying students would benefit because they won't have a long summer recess during which they tend to forget lessons taught the previous year. But how much more information would be lost if students are being pulled in and out of school on a regular basis.

No, this idea smells a lot like something scared politicians hatch when they are too afraid to tell their constituents that the schools need more money. In this case, the money is needed to build new schools. While the state is getting out of the school construction business, the counties don't necessarily want to pick up the burden. Mark my word, year-round schools will challenge us all.

Meanwhile, the 1993-94 school year in Howard marks the beginning a crucial endeavor, the MASSI program, which stands for Motivation, Assessment, Structure, Support and Instruction.

That may sound like a laundry list, but it is much more important than that. The program, designed by the school system's Human Relations Division, is aimed at improving the test scores of African-American students.

The need is clear, as many standardized examinations' scores have proven. But whether MASSI is the answer is another matter. It is a mammoth undertaking and involves training teachers to utilize teaching methods that are said to have a greater impact on black students, such as small group discussions, hands-on experimentation and a better understanding about the relevancy the coursework. Many teachers already do these things; unfortunately, many also do not.

The program won't debut in the classroom until February, and first there is curriculum to be written and teachers to be trained. ,, That's a lot of work in a short amount of time. Luckily, only six schools have been chosen to pilot the program. I've got my eye on this one.

Then, dare I say it, there is the matter of school redistricting, which is talked about in hushed tones in the halls of the Board of Education headquarters.

Some officials, notably school board Chairman Dana Hanna, have said the board will revisit the districting plan it approved earlier this year. That plan shifted three neighborhoods into Wilde Lake High School from Centennial High School beginning next year. Spared the move was the neighborhood of Dorsey Hall. That issue may resurface come next March.

And so, while we send our kids off to listen hard, test brilliantly and behave with civility, remember: All of us will be getting an education, too.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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