To the Editor:
After attending the Warwick School Committee meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 13 and listening to the discussion of the ALAP program being cut, I realized the issue is not about a lack of funding for the ALAP program, but rather it is about the idea that this program is about “elitism.”
I listened as Karen Bachus spoke of her idea for a new after-school program to take the place of ALAP. As she stated, this new program would be for all children and held after school. Students would not need to “take a test to get in,” Ms. Bachus continued to explain. She went on to say she had spoken to students who said they feel “dumb” when classmates are pulled out to go to ALAP and they are left in the classroom. As I pointed out at the meeting, this after-school program will exclude children. You may not have to “take a test to get in,” but you will have to be fortunate enough to have parents that can be available to pick you up. Many students attend after-school care and are bused there directly from school at the end of the school day because their parents work until 6 p.m. So, again, certain children are excluded.
We, as a society, have been preaching to our children and each other to celebrate individuals’ differences and talents. Every individual is special and unique. Yet, it seems to me, this idea only works when it is convenient for some. In my opinion, if you have a “gift” for being an advanced level learner, smart or highly intelligent (whatever term you may use), it is not a “gift” at all. It is a curse. These students should not be embarrassed or apologize for being “smart.” Yet, this is exactly the message some members of the School Committee and Warwick School Department are sending. They are trying to make everyone appear to be the same. As the saying goes, you cannot place a square peg in a round hole.
They believe that differentiated learning is the answer. I have had numerous meetings with numerous teachers asking for this very same thing to occur for my children through the years. I have asked for it in addition to ALAP, not in place of ALAP. I have had some teachers who have done so, and as much as I have appreciated their efforts, it is still not enough. These students need more.
Preventing ALAP students from being pulled out is not going to change how students feel about themselves or their classmates. When Mary continues to be the first one with her hand raised, always has the correct answer, and is consistently directed by the teacher to help Tommy or Joey, the kids will make their own assumptions. ALAP does not cause this. Just as much as it is a problem to be labeled as “dumb,” it is equally a problem when you are labeled “smart.” What is going to happen in junior high or high school when some students go to honors classes and others do not? What will classmates think of each other or themselves then? Should we discontinue those programs as well?
Many children are “pulled out” of class for a variety of reasons: Resource, speech therapy, OT, PT, etc. This is done so the children receive the one-on-one or small group attention they need and deserve to reach their potential. ALAP serves the same purpose.
We celebrate the star athletes each week in the paper. Walk into most high school buildings and you will see the “Athlete of the Week” display on the wall. Should we stop this so those who may not be athletic won’t feel bad about themselves? How about the baseball team? There are only a certain amount of spots on the team (contrary to the beliefs of some, ALAP is open to anyone who meets the requirements). Maybe we should stop funds for baseball since students must “take a test” (otherwise known as tryouts) to be able to participate on the team. Isn’t this a form of elitism?
On a side note, I am also extremely disheartened by the lack of a professional librarian at Gorton Junior High School. This tells me two things: 1. The plan to close a junior high school will happen. 2. Providing a quality education to all students truly is not valued here. The Basic Education Plan states every school should have a quality library program. How is this possible without a professional librarian? Many students do not have access to the public library. Not all students have access to literature at home. Contrary to popular belief, Wikipedia is not a reliable source for information. Without access to a library and knowledgeable staff at all times of the school day, children are being taught reliable sources for research and literacy are not a top priority for their education.
The Basic Education Plan states, “Every public school student will have equal access to a high quality, rigorous, and equitable array of educational opportunities from pre-K though 12.” (Basic Education Program, p. 3). This is not happening in the Warwick School Department. I have never spoken the word “dumb” or any similar word in my house with my children. I find it highly offensive. I have taught my children about diversity. I have taught them that everyone has talents. I have taught them that no one is perfect. I have taught them to be proud of who they are while being humble. They should feel a sense of pride and accomplishment for being a part of the ALAP program, not shame and guilt. The ALAP program is not about serving all children. It is about filling the gap for those whose educational needs are not being met in the regular classroom. These students, like all students, have a right to an education that meets their needs and during the regular school day.