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Student Essays Describe 'Perfect' School

Curriculum CenterTeachers who listen. Longer lunch hours. Less homework. Those are some of the predictable things that kids would like to see in a "perfect" school. Students in Sue Chanda's math class, however, envision a perfect school that has more technology, smaller teacher-student ratios, more electives, and a later starting time. Those kids have good reasons! Today, Education World shares the some of the thoughtful comments Chanda's seventh graders wrote in persuasive essays that answered the question What would the perfect school be like? Included: Chanda talks about how her assignment came about and how it helped strengthen the teacher-student bond!

Math teacher Sue Chanda asked her seventh-grade math students at Meyzeek Middle School, in Louisville, Kentucky, to describe "the perfect middle school." What she got were a couple dozen thoughtful, well-organized essays that made persuasive arguments for a later start to the school day, smaller teacher-student ratios, more elective choices, more opportunities to socialize with peers, less homework, and a lunch period long enough not to cause indigestion!

Challenge Your Students to Write About the 'Perfect' School

Teacher Sue Chanda asked her students to reflect on the question What would the perfect school be like? She had seen the question posed on a listserv, "but I decided to ask my students for their viewpoints," she told Education World.

The student essays Chanda sent to Education World were very well written. Students' opening paragraphs were well organized; writers took great care to create a strong introduction to the arguments they would make. Subsequent paragraphs detailed the students' thoughts, and closing paragraphs neatly summed up their arguments.

"What impressed me most about this assignment was how excited my students were about it," said Chanda. "They really were happy to share their opinions with adults, and they were impressed that we listened to them."

Is this assignment one that your students might enjoy?

"I have students do a lot of writing in math class," said Chanda, "but this was not a typical math writing assignment. I just wanted to hear the students' ideas, and they were happy to give them."

The activity was helpful in creating a stronger bond between Chanda and her students, she told Education World. "This activity helped reinforce that I am a person who values their opinions," she added.

Meyzeek Middle School is an inner-city school that draws much of its student population from the surrounding neighborhood. Other students are attracted to the school because it is a magnet school with a focus on math. Thirty-nine percent of the students are black; the rest belong to other races. All teachers have both magnet and non-magnet students in their classes.

Education World is pleased to share with our readers some perceptive comments that ten of Chanda's students made in their essays.


The response wasn't unanimous, but a handful of Chanda's students made convincing arguments about the starting time of the school day.

"I think our school starts too early," wrote Amber. "When I was in elementary school, we started school at 9:05 every morning. Most middle schools start at 7:40."

Starting later in the day would be the "cherry on top" of the perfect school, added Srishti. "There have been studies proving that kids our age need lots of sleep in order for us to grow properly," she wrote.

"I wake up about 6:00 every morning for school," said Kevin. "When I go to classes in the morning, I get drowsy. In the afternoon, I feel wide awake. I think that a perfect middle school should start at 9:00 a.m."

"Sometimes, even if you want to stay awake in class, there is no possible way you can because you were up all night doing homework!" wrote Srishti. "School starting later would benefit all of us."


Homework is a sore point with a lot of kids, many parents, and even some teachers. Not surprisingly, the students had a lot to say about homework.

Middle school students feel the same kinds of time pressures that adults feel. "We get out of school late. By the time we reach home, it's already 5:30 or 6:00 p.m.," noted Vidhit. "We have only one or two hours to do homework. Then we have to eat supper and go to bed."

"Students know that homework is important and necessary," wrote Sarah in her essay, "but in the perfect school, there would be some sort of system between teachers so there would be, at the most, 1 hours of homework each night. ...Kids need to have time to relax before they go to bed."

"I think the amount of homework we have is outrageous," said Ifeatu. "Sometimes I stay up quite late, not understanding a homework assignment or just having too much as it is. The homework causes students to need [to carry] more books, which is a strain on students' backs. I carry way more than 10 percent of my weight sometimes."

Srishti recommended required study-hall time each day. That time would be a "time to do homework but also a time when we could ask teachers questions or clarify ideas we don't quite understand."


More time to socialize was another common theme expressed by the students in Chanda's class -- and the arguments are quite convincing.

"The perfect school would have recess, a time for students to get outside and take a break from learning," said Ifeatu. "I think learning for about five hours straight, then having a [lunch] break for about 20 minutes, and then learning again is about as bad as cramming."

"Teachers complain that we are too talkative," added Sarah. "If we had time at lunch to talk, then we wouldn't want to talk when we get back into the classroom."

"Every hour spent in school leads to more worries, working, and homework," said Kevin. "If we had a recess, we could take our minds off that stress. I think that having at least 30 minutes of freedom would help build a perfect school."

More opportunities to participate in sports would help channel energy and relieve stress, according to many middle schoolers. "Swimming pools -- both indoor and outdoor -- and a few tennis courts could be used during a midday break," wrote Srishti. "Most people my age like to play sports and exercise, and these additions would be not only an encouragement to play sports and exercise but also places for plain fun!"

After-school activities for all students would be part of Craig's perfect school. "This would include sports teams and clubs that meet outside school hours," said Craig.


"In the perfect middle school, class sizes would be a lot smaller," wrote Sarah. "There wouldn't be 30 kids in every class. There would be, at the most, only 15. That would ensure that teachers could give each kid individual attention."

A strong academic environment would be part of Albert and Simon's perfect school. "The materials that need to be absorbed over a year should be planned out into equal shares over each day," they said. "By the end of the year, the students willing to learn should comprehend the bare basics of each section of the subjects learned in class. That way, the items of importance in the students' futures would never be forgotten."

Caring teachers would staff the perfect school. "The teachers should listen and encourage our ideas," said Amber. "Instead of saying an answer is wrong, they should ask why and how we got that answer. Sometimes, without knowing it, teachers can kind of blow off kids' ideas, not realizing that they actually might be right."

The perfect school would have "younger, newer and, for lack of a better word, cooler teachers," said Alicia. "There is nothing like a teacher who knows what is going on in a teenager's world."


Every student should be required to take a six-week computer class, wrote Craig. "I believe this because computers and other forms of technology have become very important in the world."

"One of our most painful concerns is the computers we presently own here," wrote Albert and Simon. "We really think our school needs some brand-new iMacs."

"We use old Macintosh computers to do our work," said Kevin. "There is always a problem going on with the computers. And each year the school keeps the computers, newer models come out. I think a perfect school should get new computers every three years."


Too-short lunch periods were a big concern among Chanda's students. Clearly, a perfect school would allow more time for lunch.

"Twenty minutes is not enough time," said Ifeatu. "By the time you know it, it is time to leave. Then you end up trying to inhale your food as you walk to the trash can."

"Lunch in the perfect school would be 45 minutes long," said Sarah. "That would enable kids to eat all of their lunch and have time to chat with their friends in other classes."

Cafeteria food didn't escape the attention of these middle schoolers. "At our school, there are good lunches and bad lunches," said Kevin. "A perfect school should have more quality food."

"Papa John's, Subway, and Dunkin' Donuts should be in the lunchroom," added Taylor.


Clean bathrooms were on the minds of a number of Chanda's student-essayists. "A lot of kids sometimes don't even want to go to the bathroom because it is so germy," said Amber. "When you wash your hands, sometimes you think you just got more germs than you washed off."

In a perfect school "I think students should have enough sense to keep the bathrooms clean," added Ifeatu.

A cinema or theater for watching educational videos would be part of Taylor's perfect school. In addition, Taylor said, "All kids' desks shall have a Compaq desktop computer and a CD burner. Uniforms made by Abercrombie and Fitch will be given out."

Another student in Chanda's class, Rulchmani, had a far-off vision of the perfect middle school -- a vision of a middle school of the future. He envisions a school in which students work in pods of ten kids each. "Each of these students would have a chair, laptop, and tray. The students would be able to see their teacher on a screen at the front of their pod. The teachers would be able to see the students in the pods when they are teaching."


As much as Chanda's students put a lot of thought into their visions of the perfect school, most of them remain realistic.

"I know that not all my wishes for a perfect middle school can be fulfilled, but, hey, it's a thought," wrote Alicia. "I just hope I gave a few suggestions that can be fulfilled. ..."

"I can only dream of the perfect school," wrote Amber, "because there will probably never be a perfect school. Of course, it's not impossible and hopefully someone will read this and change some schools to get closer to perfect."

Edited by Gary M. Hopkins from the essays of Sue Chanda's seventh-grade math students
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