By Jaime Thomas
Parents raised concerns about student involvement in several non-core subjects at a Hartford Board of Education meeting on Oct. 15. In particular, physical education and band requirements were discussed in relation to intense student schedules.
Several parents told the board they thought student enrollment in band has decreased because students are reluctant to regularly be pulled out of such core classes as English and math for required one-on-one band lessons.
Andrew Cook, middle and high school principal, said there has not been a trend of students dropping out of band, and the classes they miss are evenly spread out.
“The way band lessons work is on a rotating schedule. The students meet once every six school days with [band teacher] Jillian Smith. They only miss the same class one to two times per semester,” Cook said.
Brian Getty, president of the Board of Education, empathizes with parents but agrees with Cook that participation in band, while sometimes tough, is doable.
“I had it with my own daughter, who was a young scholar; sometimes it becomes too much,” Getty said. “You need to pull kids out of class sometimes because they need individual lessons with the teacher.”
Both Cook and Getty acknowledge previous problems surrounding the issue, but say they have been remedied.
“In the past we had a teacher that didn’t stay after school, but now it’s an accomplishable goal. It takes time, but it’ll smooth out,” Getty said.
Parents also questioned Smith’s duty as lunch monitor, which takes up time that could otherwise be used for individual lessons. Cook said with such tight schedules, it’s hard to find teachers to do lunch duty. Getty agreed.
“The biggest reason we have teachers monitoring the cafeteria along with aides is that there’s more order because of that. If you allow one teacher to move, it becomes a problem,” Getty said.
Cook said Smith is flexible finding times for the students and is available at other than lunch throughout the school day and before and after school.
Getty believes that students should still have room for family time within their hectic schedules, but he also sees an opportunity for them to learn about time management.
“If you want success and excellence, you’ve always got to be pushed to your limits,” Getty said.
At the meeting, parents also brought up the matter of requirements for making up missed physical education class. They were upset that their students were receiving a zero for the day in gym if they were absent.
However, Getty said the physical education component is not extremely hard to make up.
Cook describes physical education as a unique class because there is no homework or testing, and students are instead graded based solely off of their participation in class.
In order to address this, the physical education staff and Cook came up with a standardized rubric two years ago that they use today. Students get up to five points for participation, Cook said, and if they’re absent they have to make up the work like in any other class.
“We really made good strides with that. The subjectivity was taken out of it, so now it’s a very black-and-white grading system,” Cook said.
He said if students know they will be absent for a trip or vacation, they can discuss a make-up assignment with their teacher ahead of time. There are many options for this work, such as creating a poster or helping out with an elementary gym class.
Cook said the physical education teachers are also very flexible and accommodating with student schedules, and they are available before and after school and at lunch.
“Years ago, if you missed gym, you missed gym. But this all ties in to federal healthy school programs,” Getty added.