Layoff of aides will hurt city kindergartners

December 04, 2003|By Claudia Diamond

ON THE DAY that Baltimore City schools CEO Bonnie S. Copeland announced massive layoffs in the public school system, I had spent the morning watching my 5-year-old daughter and 23 of her classmates perform a Thanksgiving program. While songs filled the air, little thought was given to the announcement that dismissals were imminent.

After all, said many of the parents, the layoffs would be at the central office, not in the classroom. Teachers would not be affected; the classroom setting would not be altered. So as we listened to our sons and daughters recite a poem about a turkey that runs away on Thanksgiving Day, we had little reason to be concerned.

Our confidence was sorely misplaced. That night, at a PTA meeting, the principal of our school announced that the dismissals included the laying off of temps, effective Friday. Temps, she told us, included the three instructional aides that help the kindergarten teachers at my daughter's school every day. These workers, like the numerous other temps in the city schools, receive no benefits and very little pay. Despite this, the kindergarten aides work hard to help the teachers create a caring, learning environment for our children.

When my family decided to enroll our child in the public school, we were concerned about class sizes. Without question, it's nearly impossible for a teacher to give personal and detailed attention to 24 to 26 5-year-olds every day. But with an aide helping, managing a classroom of 5-year-olds and providing a nurturing environment becomes quite feasible.

I know this is true because I witnessed it for the last three months. The aide in my daughter's classroom is a retired teacher with more than 30 years of experience. The care she gives to the children is invaluable. And her role as an aide is neither unique nor limited to only my daughter's classroom; parents from each of the kindergarten classes echoed the same sentiment: The aide in their child's class is indispensable.

My child's classroom, like kindergartens throughout the city, includes children who still take "blankies" to school for rest time, who still suck their thumbs and who often need a lap or shoulder to rest on in times of sadness. But at our school, and I hope at other schools as well, the children's emotional as well as academic needs are met because there is an extra adult there to assist the teacher.

My daughter now is learning to read, thanks in part to the division of the classroom into two reading groups so that the teacher and the aide can work more closely with each child. With the layoff of this aide, individualized reading instruction will be difficult.

My daughter and some of her friends are not yet strong enough to open their lunch boxes without an aide's help. This assistance now will be gone.

An extra lap to climb onto, another adult voice in the day, an extra pair of hands to help a busy teacher -- all will be gone.

I realize that Baltimore has been a pioneer in instituting all-day kindergarten, and as a parent who works and whose child has been in all-day preschool, I approved of a policy that recognizes the changing nature of our society. But such a policy must also recognize that the youngest members of our educational system may need additional support to help them get through the day. The kindergarten instructional aides in the city schools provide such an invaluable, indeed necessary, resource.

Surely my young child and her friends should not be deprived of such an important resource in their lives. Layoffs may be necessary, but let's not shoulder them on the backs of our youngest constituents.

Claudia Diamond is an attorney whose daughter attends Roland Park Elementary School.

Columnist Ellen Goodman is on vacation.

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