Saturday, September 02, 2000

Where you are is what you get

        Place is fate, says author Frances Mayes. “Where you are is who you are,” she declares. If this is true for any of us, then surely it is true for schoolchildren.

        Over the last two weeks, the class of 2013 has romped into kindergarten classrooms across the Tristate. It is not likely they appreciate how diverse their experiences will be.

        What one school only wishes for, another school takes for granted. What one teacher simply marks down on a budget line, another knows better than to ask for.

        To paraphrase Ms. Mayes: In schools, where you are is what you get. And what you get makes a difference.

Opportunity often fate
               Five years from now, the kindergartners will sit down to fourth-grade proficiency tests. Few of us, upon reading their scores, will bother to consider how different their opportunities have been. We will not see how poor facilities and inadequate materials shaped learning at one school while a full support staff gave teachers extra time to prepare lessons at another.

        Almost none of us will look at the scores and ask which children had playgrounds, guidance counselors, arts programs, psychological services, gifted programs, teacher aides, updated technology. Yet opportunity, like place, is often fate.

        So, as the kindergartners begin their first year, let us consider these facts:

        In Ripley Elementary in Brown County, every kindergartner spends the full day in school, an opportunity many districts only dream of. An on-site early childhood center provides services from Head Start for drug or alcohol counseling for parents. But Ripley students have no art teacher, no guidance counselor and the services of a psychologist only when contracted to do testing.

        At John F. Dumont Elementary in Madeira, a school about half the size of Ripley, students have the services of a full-time psychologist, reading specialist, gifted teacher, learning disabilities teacher, speech and hearing pathologist and librarian. They do without an assistant principal, and have a half-time guidance counselor and art teacher.

Some have no playground
               At Hoffman Elementary, a Cincinnati public school, staff members have cut back on other services to have full-time art, music and physical education teachers. But the school has a psychologist only one day a week, and a school nurse only two days a week. It has a highly ranked Reading Recovery program and a traveling choir, but no playground or guidance counselor.

        Kindergartners in Mason go to an early childhood center instead of an elementary school. They have their own computer lab, full-time arts instructors and health services that include occupational and physical therapy, speech pathology, four days a week of a psychologist's services and a full-time nurse.

        At Frost Elementary in Mount Healthy, the school has a hugely successful peer mediation program and full-time arts program, but no computer teacher.

        Finally, one of the greatest differences among schools is the amount of parental involvement. At schools where many parents must work full time, there are often only a handful of volunteers or PTA members. In contrast, some suburban schools can rely on parents to regularly assist in class and run programs. Blue Ash Elementary parents, for example, logged a whopping 4,600 volunteer hours last year — an immeasurable gift to any school, and blessing to any child in it.


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