What kinds of classes, activities, resources, or facilities would middle school students like their community to provide for them in school or after school?
"My students had many interesting ideas," says teacher Linda Haskell, who posed that question to her students at Williams Junior High School in Oakland, Maine. The thoughtful responses she got from her students ran the gamut.
"Many thought the school athletic fields needed improvement or the sports teams needed new equipment and uniforms," Haskell told Education World. "Others suggested buying tour buses for field trips. Still others suggested larger lockers, wider hallways, homework on alternate nights, or adding a rock-climbing wall or a pool to the school. One student wanted a jazz band, another a magic class, and another wanted to chew gum during the day. A few asked for a longer lunch period or having fast-food such as McDonalds. One student asked to repaint the interior with brighter colors."
But the most common add-on requested by students in Haskell's classes -- and in many other schools where teachers posed this question for Education World -- was an after-school program.
If you think about it, the desire for after-school programs is not at all surprising. After all, middle school students love to socialize! But their thoughtful responses indicate that such programs would meet needs beyond socialization.
"School is a wonderful place for kids to learn, play, have fun, and stay out of trouble," wrote Lisa B., one of Haskell's students. "What about after school, though? How can kids stay out of trouble and have fun? That is why an after-school activity program should be put into action. An after-school program could allow kids of all ages to make new friends, stay away from drugs and television, and experience new things."
Click here to read Lisa's essay.
Amanda R., an eighth grader in Kathy Foster's class at St. John Vianney School in Orlando, Florida, agrees that an after-school program might solve many problems for young teens. "Many students come home from school to an empty household, with no one to share their thoughts of the day," wrote Amanda. "Others come home to busy parents who take no interest in them. Still others wander the streets until dinnertime. Why should this be? An ideal solution to these problems would be a teen community center, a place where teenagers could find a safe haven among peers, finish homework, provide company, and generally have fun."
Click here to read Amanda's essay."I think there should be an after-school club," added Amanda's classmate, Kenny S. "It would be nice to have an activity area where the junior high students could play ping pong, foosball, or just relax amongst themselves. This would not have to be an everyday kind of club, but even once a week would be nice -- like every Wednesday."
"Is your child sick of coming home after school to do nothing? Well... I have a solution!" wrote Daniel S. in his essay. A student in Donna Thomas's class at Heritage Prep Middle School in Orlando, Daniel added that his community could create "a play place, or as the older kids would say...a place to hang out. This place will have a pool table, Fooseball, a pool to swim in, football, and a T.V. with a PlayStation."
Homework -- the amount of it, the organization of it, and the need to support it -- is another topic occupying the minds of many middle schoolers. Students had no shortage of suggestions for ways schools might help them deal with "the homework problem."
"Homework! Homework! Almost every day!" said Jerome S., one of Donna Thomas's students. "Kids get tired of it sometimes!... It would be nice to have an after-school homework program so the kids who want to do their homework can do it before they get home."
"A homework club is needed to help students with their homework," agrees Katrina M., a student in Beverly Maddox's class at Henderson Health Sciences Magnet Middle School in Little Rock, Arkansas. "We could meet two days per week. High school students or parents from PTA could come and help students with their homework... The homework center would be most helpful to students that have low grades in their classes. It would be helpful to the parents who have to work late."
"Another important suggestion would be to separate subjects' homework so the homework isn't all in one night," wrote Maria L., a student at St. John Vianney. "For example, Monday would be English homework night, Tuesday would be Math, etc. This would be better because we wouldn't have a pile of homework on one night and our bookbags wouldn't be so heavy on our backs. Each subject would have a night."
Having less homework, or having a chance to complete it before going home, might help improve life at home too. Kristen T., a student at Heritage Prep, addressed her essay to parents: "This year we are also going to give your child less homework, because we know how hard it is when you get home and your child is packed with homework, and you are already stressed out since you've already had a hard day at work. We want you to go home...maybe rest, or plan something with the family."
Rita P., another student at St. John Vianney, wrote about an idea she'd like to see implemented -- a Student Court!
"The Student Court is a court made up of students, for the students," she explains in her essay. "The Student Court makes up rules and consequences for breaking those rules, for all the students, so the students can live safely at school."
"If someone has broken one of the rules," Rita continues, "they must attend a Student Court session to learn their consequence for breaking the rule. The student is then given a pink sheet with their consequence to give to the teacher who is serving their consequence. (An example of this might be when a detention is the consequence, the student must give their pink sheet to the teacher who is serving the detention.) I think this is a great idea for a school because the students are allowed to make the rules and get suggestions for rules from the rest of the Student Body, the teachers, and the principal."
"My kids worked on the assignment, enjoyed it, and we'll be following up with more analysis of the school and its needs," reports teacher Beverly Maddox. Among the other ideas her students had were these:
"I think we should have more activities. Students misbehave because they know they don't have any privileges to lose," wrote Anastashia R. "If we had pep rallies, dances, or school spirit days, students would behave so they can participate in those activities instead of staying in class and doing work."
Randy H. thinks a community newsletter would be a great idea. "A community newsletter would let the community and parents know about what goes on in school. This type of newsletter gives parents and other potential sponsors details about what goes on in Henderson Middle School. The community might get involved with what we write about and might get involved with the PTA too."
Joanna H. thinks that changing the school day to a block schedule format would be a good thing because she wouldn't have to remember homework assignments for seven classes! "Having three classes one day and four on another day means we wouldn't have to worry about seven classes every day!," she wrote. "Teachers say they never have enough time to work 'hands on' with students. The block schedule would allow teachers to spend more time with their students. If students need extra or special attention, they would have the extra time."
Ideas came in by the dozens from teachers who used the Lesson Plan offered by Education World. Among the other students we heard from were those in Tracy Miller's classes at the middle school of the American School Foundation in Mexico City, Mexico: "Considering the in-school facilities, the snack bar would be just wonderful if we could have different kinds of foods," wrote student Nelly G. "We already have chips, cookies, and molletes, but we could also add fruit. Fruit plates would be ideal, and also cucumber, carrot, and jicama sticks would make an improvement."
Nelly had other ideas about how her school might help students lead a healthful life. Click here to read her essay.
Student Alexis K. had ideas for improving the school's exploratory program and for making recess time more fun. She expressed her ideas in an essay titled "Middle Schoolers M.A.D. (Making A Difference)." Among her thoughts: "There should be a bigger variety of exploratories, like a job exploratory to show kids how different jobs work. Kids should be able to choose exploratories they like to do... During recess, there should be more activities besides sports. Computer labs should be opened, as well as the art room and the music room..."
And the students in Corrie Rosetti's classes at Lincoln Middle School in Clarkston, Washington, had some great ideas too!
"I think school would be a lot better if they had more funds for visual aids and props," wrote Gaylene C., an eighth-grader at Lincoln. "People learn more effectively when they can see what is being discussed... Not everyone can create a picture in their mind by hearing words only... With more money for school, teachers could get more props and visual aids and help students understand."
Click here to read Gaylene's essay.
Leanne K., another of Rosetti's students, wrote an essay that spoke to the crowded conditions at Lincoln Middle. "I think making periods between classes longer would help," she wrote. "It's so hard for some students to get to their crowded, small lockers. Also, it's so stressful to [have to] get to class so fast... I don't think we should be rushed like that."
Those are just a sampling of student-generated ideas from middle school students in a handful of schools. What ideas might your students have to improve their lives in your school and community? Why not ask them? Click here for a simple Lesson Plan that you might adapt for use with your students.
I would like to thank the teachers -- all members of the Middle-L Listserv -- whose students participated in this activity. A most appreciative thanks to:
Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1999 Education World