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Bargell: What’s best for our kids?

Cindy Bargell

When I asked some friends the other evening just what it was they wanted their kids to learn at school I got five (no maybe six) different answers. Not surprising, as there were five different people there. Our group reflects a microcosm of the significant ongoing debate regarding the Summit School District’s implementation of “Equal Access” in our classrooms. One thing’s for sure, we all want the best for our kids. Take that vague notion and multiply it times the 3,100 kids in Summit Schools, and you start to get the picture of the different perspectives.

The whole fuss over the changes in some of the school’s programming has forced me to dig deeper into what I truly think is important for our kids to learn at school. Yes, a solid educational foundation is a must. But, I find myself in my parents’ camp in that regard. As teachers, they were not overly sympatric when I complained about the instruction I received at school. My dad’s only communication with the bulk of my high school teachers was to let them know if I got out of line, they had his permission to paddle me. Besides recognizing the fact I generally needed to make an effort to talk less and learn more (if I had any hope of avoiding the paddle), it was clear my success or failure really was in my own hands. So, even when I had the occasional teacher who failed to truly appreciate the excellent verbal skills I practiced with my friend in the next seat, it remained my responsibility to figure out how to get the most out of the class. Making the most of every situation, even when imperfect, is something I’d like my kids to learn.

Before attending the last Equal Access forum, several students shared anecdotally some of their frustration with the new delivery model, and I’m disheartened to learn there are kids who are genuinely disappointed with the current classroom mix. I then decided to ask one of the consumers in our household her thoughts on a mixed group classroom before I piped up with my own opinion. She’s just spent the last eight years in an equal access forum – one of our local elementary schools. Her school has quite a wide array of learners, from those kids who bike or walk from the local neighborhood to others who travel across the county daily to attend. When I casually inquired whether she’d prefer a class where everyone speaks the same language, and learns at the same level she surprised me by saying she thought that sounded boring. Granted, diversity is all she’s ever known in the classroom. The dose of reality that is our county, and our country, filled with people from all different cultures and backgrounds has not been such a bad thing however, at least for one kid. I’m not suggesting the elementary model works for all secondary level classes, but instead that it’s my hope all the kids are encouraged to mix it up so that they learn to care about and appreciate one another.

I’ve found myself haunted, too, by one of the questions posed at the recent Equal Access forum where the table considered whether equality and excellence can co-exist in the classroom. If excellence is solely measured by a test score, then I agree that not everyone can achieve the same degree of excellence. But it’s continued to nag me that the answer really depends on how we define excellence. The sign that hung in Albert Einstein’s office at Princeton sums it up nicely “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Being able to value each person’s different strengths, and moreover, if we want to develop leaders, the ability to bring out those strengths in those around you, should be at least one measure of excellence.

One thing I think it’s mandatory they learn is the inherent danger in thinking there is an absolute right answer for any complex issue. Too often these days we see how the rigid belief that there’s only one solution justifies disregard, or worse still, disrespect for differing positions. If we stop listening to each other, then I suppose it is time to abandon the district’s longstanding goal of developing caring learners for the 21st century. This whole debate is not about winning or losing points in the paper, or at a meeting, but should instead be about coming together to take on really tough issues and forge solutions that do consider the needs of all of our students. Then, we need to let the teachers do their jobs, and as parents make sure our kids know it’s their responsibility to make the very best of their education.

Cindy Bargell lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She is a card-carrying PTSA member, real estate and natural resources lawyer and part-time gymnastics coach. She welcomes your comments at cindy@visanibargell.com.


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