The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 20, 2009

Opinions

School hears parents concerns over kindergarten changes

Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle and Elementary School Principal Patrice Hurley received mixed reactions last week when they spoke with a large group of parents about a proposal to lengthen the kindergarten program. They met with another group of parents this week and discussed additional options as they continue to refine their ideas.

About 50 parents attended the information session held on March 11, where Doyle and Hurley explained how a new four-full-day kindergarten schedule would provide additional time for learning and would save money by eliminating the noon bus run. According to the handout distributed at the meeting, dropping the bus run would save about $21,000. Currently, children attend two full days and three morning kindergarten sessions per week. At a Carlisle School Association board meeting this Tuesday Doyle and Hurley clarified that they are now considering several ideas, including leaving the program unchanged. The Carlisle School Committee was scheduled to discuss the topic at their meeting on Wednesday (after the Mosquito went to press), with a vote expected at a later meeting.

The amount of school time in a “full-day” program varies. Carlisle provides a total of 3.5 days per week, but some schools provide five full days per week and others fall in between. Bedford has a kindergarten format with four full days, while Concord offers a program of two short and three long days per week.

Both plans provide three more hours a week than Carlisle’s program. However, because of the lunch/recess break needed in full-day sessions, the Concord format offers one more hour of classroom time compared with Bedford. On the other hand, the Concord model may be more expensive, since the noon bus run would still be needed two days a week.

Currently Carlisle parents pay a kindergarten fee of $775. Would an expanded program affect the fee? Lengthening the kindergarten program might be expected to involve additional teacher compensation. The teachers’ contract for next year is still under negotiation.

In a March 3 letter to the School Committee, the kindergarten teachers and teachers union president noted reservations about the “educational benefit of having a four-full-day kindergarten program” with a three-day break from school each week. They wrote that alternatives should be explored carefully with “ample participation of all those who might be affected by a change in the kindergarten program.”

Is a longer kindergarten program a good idea? Arguments in favor mirror those given in 2000 when Carlisle started offering two full days per week: it would allow a more relaxed pace, giving children more time to absorb the curriculum and master new skills. Parents who work may appreciate that less day care will be needed. On the other hand, some may regret a reduction in their child’s unstructured play time or miss the time they would have spent with their child. Others feel that children that age need down-time in the afternoons. It may be that no one approach is best for every child and every family.

The school is to be thanked for involving parents in the discussion as the educational and financial effects of kindergarten changes are weighed. It is hoped that parents will also be included as the effects of a superintendency union are considered. ∆

Fragile Lives

by Parkman Howe

In last week’s Forum, “Serving Kids,” Christy Barbee responded to the results of a recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey. She asked, correctly in my view, how some parents could, in good conscience, knowingly serve minors alcohol in their own homes. Providing alcohol to anyone under 21 is illegal, she pointed out; in addition, social host liability makes homeowners liable for accidents involving alcohol served on their premises.

Recently, a fatal incident involved a local student at an unchaperoned house party in Andover. I served as the student’s advisor. Below, I offer a few personal thoughts on the matter.

Each weekend a core group of teenagers, no matter the make-up of the school, actively seeks a venue for an adult-free bacchanalia. These students include well groomed, well spoken, bright-eyed high-achievers bound for select colleges. They are organized and communicative; they have learned their academic lessons. Their deceptions in dealing with the adult world – parents, teachers, police, package store clerks and the like – are practiced, complex, and convincing. They never quite know where or when the next party will take place. As a result, these parties can resemble feeding frenzies where opportunists gorge themselves.

Because we live in affluent towns, people travel regularly. Parents spend a dozen or more years arranging coverage for children when they must travel for work. Then suddenly, those children are old enough to use a phone in an emergency. A weekend conference in a marvelous vacation spot with a spouse or a relaxing night at a second home can be enticing.

Throughout our town and neighboring ones, parents go away for the night or longer, leaving houses without adult presence. Each is a potential target for a party. The word goes out that a home is parent-free for a night or a weekend. A reluctant – or willing – teenage host is persuaded to have a few friends over; more arrive. That evening, the street is lined with cars.

At the party someone is temporarily depressed; someone says something that they don’t really mean; on a whim someone decides to do something out of character. Suddenly, a dream-like cascade of trivial events begins, each one in and of itself easily deterred.

Some parents argue that such parties are inevitable. They respond by providing a “safe haven” where a responsible adult appropriates car keys and remains on the premises. Most of the time this works – until someone arrives having ingested something illegal, and mixes it with just enough alcohol to cause a violent reaction, which “friends” try to conceal either in a remote room or outside, until they notice their comrade has trouble breathing.

Or, for reasons that may always remain a mystery, someone simply wanders off into the cold.

It is very difficult to call parents with the news that their child is in the intensive care unit; it is harder to hear a 16 year-old will no longer take her place in class; it is worse to see the casket; it is incomprehensible to behold a gravestone. And how, then, does one comfort an inconsolable family?

Most party-goers survive. Most of the time they elude detection. Most of the time they resume the quiet tenor of their lives, a little more sated, a little more emboldened. They reach college, and the circumstances that gave rise to their secret parties disappear.

We can call parents at whose house a party will be held. If suspicious, we can call back (how many siblings and friends have masqueraded as parents?). We can check that one legitimate party is not a temporary stop for the true party held elsewhere. There are many ruses.

This story has no happy ending. The students who attended the party were suspended from school. Several withdrew entirely. A Grand Jury is currently investigating and questioning everyone at the party, as well as the absent homeowner. And my student is no longer with her family, or ready to play lacrosse, or read Othello this spring.

Rules about drinking and driving, chaperoned parties, checking in with parents or adults, all can seem absurd, even to some parents – until suddenly, incredibly, unbelievably, some young person is damaged or gone forever.

Inexperience knows the wonder of life; experience, its fragility.

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