Sidney A. Johnson: Moving sixth-graders into high school setting is inexcusable


I had hoped that the Newfane school budget would be passed into history before writing this. Unfortunately I cannot wait any longer. The decision to move the sixth grade from the Newbrook Elementary school to the Leyland & Gray High School is inexcusable. Having been a teacher for more than two decades; mostly at the primary and elementary levels, I can attest to the fact that there are significant needs and characteristics of children at this level that are often unmet when secondary staff interface with them. In addition as a former school administrator I can equally state that the administrative style compatible with the needs of children significantly differ from those of secondary students.

The elementary student is tasked in the primary grades with the cognitive needs to handle the abstractions relative to learning the language, managing processes that would stymie most adults, and to learn these swiftly, without fear. Can you imagine being asked as an adult to learn, write and speak Greek or Chinese in a single school year! Yet our children do this all the time.

We separate our youth into groups and call them infants, children and then teenagers. Each group has its identity, needs and characteristics.

The transition from one group to another is often disruptive, stressful and demanding. We know that stress produces some degree of trauma. We also know that trauma provides the impetus for compulsive responses such as overeating, drug and alcohol use and abuse and a host of other behaviors. We also know that the transition from childhood to being a teenager is fraught with conflict and other demands and needs. Is there a single parent in Windham County that has not heard from their newly minted teenager the lament, "But Mom (or Dad) I'm not a child ... I'm a teenager!" Our children easily see the distinction.

The teaching styles, methods of administration, curriculum and innumerable other facets of an elementary school differ significantly from that of the secondary level. It is nothing sort of monstrous to believe that thrusting these sixth graders into the secondary school environment will not be excessively disruptive. What will the response be of these administrators if even one of these children experiences bullying at the high school? Will a pathetic reduction in costs be justified at any level?

Educational design must meet the needs of the future. A new job classification in the U.S. is created about every four minutes. And an almost equal number of old jobs are phased out. Having studied and worked in areas of addiction, compulsive behavior and trauma for more than 15 years, I can give testimony as to the severity of mismanaged learning and/or living environments. The children in our schools today will face Artificial Intelligence, advanced robotics, a variety of space challenges and a world inconceivable to many of us at their age.

We are incredibly fortunate to have an exemplary local elementary school, top administrators and an excellent staff. We need to insure that all our children have the stress and trauma free environment they deserve. Can we depend upon overly cost conscious administrators to really meet the needs of our children? Or, will we have to listen to apologetic excuses when the learning environment is damaged irreparably? We need to support the dollars but not the destruction.

Sidney A. Johnson writes from Newfane. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.



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