Hammond teachers plan uniform approach to discipline at overcrowded school

July 30, 1995|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,Sun Staff Writer

The crowding at Hammond Middle School is causing frayed nerves and disciplinary problems among students, so some teachers gathered on a vacation day to plan a uniform response to the fights and insults they're likely to see in the coming school year.

Hammond, west of Interstate 95 in Laurel, is in one of the fastest-growing regions in the county, and schools there are among the county's most overcrowded.

The middle school was built 25 years ago to accommodate 584 students, but 811 are projected to attend this fall. The number of students has increased by 50 to 70 students a year for the past five years, said Principal David Oaks.

"The students are so close together, a bump in the hallway becomes a major incident," said Virginia Charles, the school's PTA president for the 1994-1995 school year, who attended the Wednesday morning workshop.

A new southeastern middle school is scheduled to open on Gorman Road in 1997 to relieve the crowding. But before that school opens, Hammond teachers think the best way to maintain order is to consistently discipline students for bad behavior.

While teachers say the majority of students behave well, Hammond had the most suspensions -- 95 -- and the highest suspension rate -- 14.8 percent of the students -- among the county's 15 middle schools during the 1993-1994 school year, according to the Howard County Board of Education. Owen Brown Middle School in Columbia had the second-highest number of suspensions that year with 55 -- or 9.2 percent of its students. Figures for 1994-1995 were not available.

Hammond had 61 suspensions in 1991-1992 and 53 in 1992-1993. From 1992 to 1994, the suspensions increased 79 percent. Countywide during that time, the increase was 25 percent in middle schools, statistics show.

Without a schoolwide discipline policy, the reprimands and punishment given by teachers varied from classroom to classroom.

"Some students may be sent to the principal's office for one offense in one classroom, but another teacher may ignore the same behavior," said Gina Cash, a sixth-grade science teacher. "It is incredibly important to eliminate some of the confusion."

Mr. Oaks, the principal, said teachers collectively decided to "go back to zero and reorganize."

He used money from the school's special fund, the county's staff development department and a federal special education grant to pay a Johns Hopkins University consultant $6,000 to conduct a three-day workshop in behavior management systems for Hammond teachers in June.

"The core of any behavior management system is to be both consistent and firm with rules and expectations," said Michael Rosenberg, professor and chairman of the university's special education department. He has worked with schools in Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, Baltimore City and

Washington.

Based on work done in the seminar, some Hammond teachers decided to meet on their own to further develop the plan.

The schoolwide approach demands students be on time for classes, be prepared to participate and follow directions, and always be respectful with their language and actions. Fighting, insults or touching other students' property without permission also won't be tolerated.

The teachers' response to students who violate the standards ++ depends on the offense.

If a student curses in class, for example, teachers can give a verbal reprimand, ask for an after-class conference or give the student a time out or detention.

Hob Shry, an eighth-grade math teacher, said implementation by the school's 54 teachers will be difficult. "I hope we haven't taken on too much," he said.

Mr. Oaks said he imagines most students will be pleased with the plan.

"They want consistency and security," he said. "It's a frustrating time to teach kids, and we just want to make it better."

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