Middle school cultural arts classes suffer

Emphasis on reading shoves electives to the background

`What we forecasted'

Some parents upset with fewer choices in middle schools

Anne Arundel

April 15, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Parents who opposed doubling the amount of time spent on reading in the sixth grade feared it would mean sacrificing the cultural arts programs in Anne Arundel County middle schools.

And information starting to come out shows that some schools are being forced to remove courses from the curriculum because of low enrollment and teacher shuffling to get more reading teachers for the new super-size language arts block.

"This is exactly what we forecasted," said Carolyn Horan, a Severna Park mother who started an organization to fight the changes this spring. "It's still very appalling to me when I hear the statistics."

Southern Middle School in Lothian will not offer Family and Consumer Sciences - the updated name for home economics - or World Language Connections, an introductory foreign language course. General Music won't be offered at Annapolis or Severna Park middle schools and probably others. Lindale Middle School in Linthicum will probably drop Technical Education, said Judy Jenkins, the instructional director who oversees North County schools.

Severn River Middle School in Arnold had planned to eliminate art for the entire school after both art teachers announced their retirements, Principal Carolyn Burton-Page said. Many pupils had signed up to take art in the fall. Burton-Page changed her mind and has said she will advertise for a new teacher.

"The electives are not being offered as they were," school board President Paul G. Rudolph told parents at the school board nominating convention Tuesday night. "I know because I can count, and I know you can't replace 110 cultural arts teachers with language arts teachers and still have a full slate of electives."

A complete list of what schools will and will not offer won't be available for a few weeks, officials said. Pupils have picked their courses, and principals' course rosters will be due at school district headquarters Tuesday.

"I haven't removed anything as of yet, but we'll probably end up not offering [an elective] course," Deborah Montgomery, principal at Old Mill Middle School-North, said last week.

Arundel Middle School Principal Paul Strickler, whose school has more than 1,000 pupils, said he will be able to offer all the electives, but only because he is offering abbreviated nine-week courses so pupils can be exposed to more.

Teachers at many of the 19 schools are being told they will have to move and that some positions that were full time will be part time, but no teacher will lose his or her job, said Susie C. Jablinske, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. Some teachers in shortage areas will have no problem finding other positions; others might have to try new disciplines.

"We don't have a count," she said. "There's a lot of confusion and a lot of fear. Teachers don't even like to change rooms, much less schools."

The unrest is a result of a middle school reading initiative approved by the board in February. Disturbed by the poor reading skills of eighth-graders, Superintendent Carol S. Parham's staff proposed beefing up reading instruction in the middle schools. Parents filled school board meetings to protest the reading program, objecting to its potential impact on cultural arts, particularly when many pupils read well.

Because there isn't enough money to add a period to the school day, pupils will have one period of cultural arts - including home economics, technical education and physical education - instead of two to make room for more reading and writing.

Some schools are dropping courses for the fall because no pupils signed up for them, but the low enrollment can be traced to the fact that pupils can sign up for two to as many as four classes, in rare cases. During this year, sixth-graders typically took five cultural arts courses, including three that were mandatory (art, technical education and home economics).

"Everyone has to drop something because you have to pay in a way for these language arts teachers," said William J. Callaghan, principal at Southern Middle. "You tend to cut what's less popular. It's a matter of practicality."

None of this comes as any comfort to parents who are tempted to sing a rousing chorus of "We told you so."

Bonnie Gollup, for one, has a daughter entering high school next year and a son who will be a fifth-grader at Lothian Elementary School. The daughter's "middle school experience was wonderful," Gollup said. "I guess you just kind of normally expect the next child to get what the first child got."

She said school board members never seemed to fully understand what they were approving, remembering when at a recent board meeting member Vaughn Brown became confused about the number of electives each child would get to pick.

"It was like they had blinders on," she said. "They never had the whole picture.

"Now they're actually seeing it."

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