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Residents: Schools need to teach respect

(Published August 28, 2000)

By STAR HILL and DAWN HILL

Staff Writers

New D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance needs to concentrate on improvements both inside and outside the classroom to help students succeed, according to D.C. residents questioned in a recent random survey.

With school scheduled to start the day after Labor Day, many residents said their best advice to the new superintendent is to emphasize better discipline as well as test taking, math and reading skills.

They talked about teaching "respect" – to both students and teachers.

"Once manners and respect are taught, the children will fall in line," said Arnetta Scales whose grandchild attends a D.C. public school.

Elaine DeShields of Northwest Washington recounted an incident involving her son to illustrate that even teaching children proper behavior at home isn’t necessarily enough if following rules doesn’t receive adequate attention in the schools.

"My son told the teacher that he would slap the wig off her head if she didn’t let him go to the bathroom," DeShields related in apparent horror. "I went to the school and tore him up in the classroom. My thing is: You don’t disrespect adults."

On the other hand, residents also said they feel respect is a two-way street.

"When kids have to go to the bathroom, teachers say ‘no.’ They should let them go to the bathroom," DeShields said.

Residents mentioned test-taking skills as the number two need for D.C. students to be taught after respect, because many D.C. students didn’t score well on the Stanford 9 test.

"Teachers should teach the material on the Stanford 9 test after the first week of school, instead of concentrating on other stuff," said Tonya Howard, who lives in Northwest Washington.

One resident noted that "uptown" D.C. public schools have above-average scores on the standardized tests, but schools in lower-income areas have mostly below-average scores.

Along with test-taking competency, residents noted a need for reinforcement through the teaching of basic life skills such as reading and math.

Another topic of concern was help for students with special challenges, such as foster children and teenaged parents.

"There should be structured daycare at school," said Hope Lynch of Northeast Washington. Lynch said on-site daycare would help teen mothers complete their education.

Myra Davis of Northeast Washington pointed out that some students – she particularly mentioned some children in foster care – don’t have parents who will take an active role in their school activities. Residents mentioned several special programs – such as tutoring, after-school activities and mentoring – that they said need to be in place or expanded to pick up the slack for children who need extra adult attention.

Some residents complained about absenteeism among the school system’s teaching staff, saying they believe something needs to be done to hire better teachers who will show up for work more often. One man said that if teachers were paid more, it wouldn’t be difficult to recruit qualified teaching personnel.

Many D.C. parents acknowledged they realize the new schools superintendent cannot improve the school system by himself.

"More parents need to get involved at school," said DeShields.

Residents said that not only should more adults volunteer their time to work with children, but children should volunteer more in the community as well. Some people speculated that part of the behavioral problems with young people rest in others always doing things for them. More volunteering would help children take "their minds off themselves and make them think about others. When we were young, we would cut lawns and buy groceries for old people," Scales said.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator