A Redress Of Grievances: 5th Graders Petition To Change Classrooms

“We have some students from the Sherman School who’d like to say something to the Board Of Education,” stated acting Board President Loren Harms during the October 20th Board Of Education (BOE) meeting. The issue at hand was the removal of having 5th graders in the district change classrooms, in part as preparation of middle school and high school. Five students introduced themselves to the Board.

The first student, Sarah began, “Good evening Superintendent Garrido and members of the Board Of Education. We present you with a petition filled with over 130 signatures of 4th graders, 5th graders, and teachers from Sherman School. We, as the students of Sherman Elementary School, feel that we should be able to switch for Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts alongside our Math classes on a daily basis for the following reasons.”

“We have already gone through a whole year of switching . . . so now we are confused as to why we are not switching any longer.”

Next was Karly who stated, “Switching for classes each day will prepare us for the years in both middle school and high school. Once we leave 5th grade we will constantly be moving from classroom to classroom for different subjects. Some of us don’t even get to switch at all because our math teacher is our home room teacher too. Imagine how boring sitting in the same classroom all day is. If we don’t switch for other classes, then we will not be prepared for when the time comes to do so. We have already gone through a whole year of switching for Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies, so now we are confused as to why we are not switching any longer.”

Caitlin then stated, “When we were in 4th grade, we assumed that we were going to have all of the fifth grade teachers – instead of just one or two – for all the different subjects. We looked forward to meeting and getting to know all of the 5th grade teachers and we were upset when we found out that we weren’t switching anymore. Even though we love our one or two teachers, we were so excited to move around for different classes like we did last year. Many of the kids  up here tonight also play soccer or are involved in other town activities, which means they have talked to students from the other elementary schools about this problem. Most, if not all, of the other kids agree that we should be able to switch for all of our classes. Even though they haven’t  signed petitions like we have, we still think that their opinions matter. We want fairness not just for us, but for all of the 4th and 5th grader students in Roselle Park.”

Derek spoke last, proclaiming, “When this change happened, we were never told about it, and weren’t really prepared. We don’t think our feelings were included when a decision for us to stop switching classes happened. We think there should have, at least, been a vote or we should have been asked how we felt about this. We are all a little upset that we weren’t included in your decision-making process.”

All students closed their remarks by addressing the Board in unison, “Thank you for your time and your attention to this matter. We hope that you will strongly consider restoring the switching of classes in elementary schools.”

BOE President Harms responded, “Thank you students for coming forward and giving your opinion on what you think should be done. You spoke up for all the other fifth graders whether it was in Sherman, Aldene, or Robert Gordon. I think this is a good learning experience for the other students who might not have thought that a petition could be brought to us.”

Mr. Harms then asked if School Superintendent Garrido would like to address the students. The superintendent obliged, saying, “First of all, I want to thank you and congratulate you on the way that you handled this and I think this is a perfect experience for you on how democracy works. You can state your opinion. When I was your age I lived in a country that I couldn’t do this. This country gives you the right to come up [and] speak about decisions that have been made, if you disagree with them, and share your opinions with people and that’s a great, great thing to do and again I commend you on the way you handled this.”

“These decisions don’t come very easy. Administrators discuss this based on what we want you to learn and what we think is the best way for you to learn.” – Pedro Garrido

Mr. Garrido then continued by explaining that change is not welcome at first. People are used to doing certain things for many years in certain ways but sometimes because of situations that come up with curriculum, sometimes changes have to be made.  He continued, “These decisions don’t come very easy. Administrators discuss this based on what we want you to learn and what we think is the best way for you to learn. What we have now are literacy blocks where the home room teachers are teaching you certain strategies and as you know Social Studies and Science have a lot of literacy as well. So we want to make sure that your home room teachers – since they know you better than anyone else – are able to apply the strategies in Science and Social Studies. Really why we did it is because we want you to . . . be able to ensure that you are successful as you continue on. We will make sure that you get the best instruction possible but I want to thank you and I’ll bring it to the administration as well, how great our students were here and we will discuss it. It’s not going to stay just here. We are definitely going to have a discussion about it. Thank you very much.”

Literacy blocks provide concentrated instruction on reading, phonics, and writing within a confined time-frame.

Mr. Harms asked, “Is there a way in each school . . .that the principals can kind of get a hold of the 5th graders and explain to them so they kind of understand a little bit more than what tonight was said?”

He instructed that the superintendent speak with principals, adding, “We just don’t want you to walk out of here tonight saying nothing’s going to be done. We don’t want you to feel that way. We want you to . . . explain to you why we did it.”

A parent in the audience stated that the students had already spoken to the principals. Mr. Garrido stated he will have the issue explained again and ask the principals reach out to him if they have any further questions.

“It’s a little bit more than just the curriculum that’s being made out there,” clarified Mr. Harms, “There’s a little more involved with it . . . Let’s have meeting with the principals and let’s see how it works out and if you’re still not satisfied, you’re welcome to come back.”

He half jokingly added, “Or call Mr. Garrido.”

Later in the meeting, Jim Crevani, a parent of a student in the school district approached the Board during the second public portion. He first thanked Superintendent Garrido for holding his ‘Meet The Superintendent’ forums, remarking, “I think they’re a good opportunity for everybody in a different forum to discuss things.”

“They had stated . . . that they had come up with a way that three days a week they could change class and they were shot down.” – Jim Crevani

Mr. Crevani commented that he had spoken first to Mr. Garrido then went to the principals and members of the Sherman School staff at Back-To-School Night. In speaking with the staff Mr. Crevani stated, “They had stated . . . that they had come up with a way that three days a week they could change class and they were shot down. I don’t know if this is the forum to do it or if we need to do something on the side; maybe we could get a couple of parents and staff together and kind of sit down and have an open discussion because personally knowing what the teachers give to these children in their different specialties, the sciences, the social studies – I think you’re doing a disservice to those children. And the fact that the staff went out of their way to come up with a curriculum in a way to work in the language arts and the writing grammar, it just goes to show you what type of teachers you’re dealing with, that they’re willing to work for these kids. And I know for a fact [that] most of these kids in fifth grade and every single one of them every time I saw them they were like ‘Can you believe we’re not changing class?’ They were so distraught; so upset. I understand that you have to do stuff . . . but maybe there’s something that we can discuss. Maybe the teachers can do that maybe [from] December on.”

Mr. Garrido replied, “I will certainly discuss that with the administration but as you just mentioned that there [are] requirements and mandates on the number of minutes especially now with literacy and the language arts blocks.”

The superintendent even commented that a BOE member had reminded him that the middle school is not switching as it used to because of the certain number of minutes required for Math and Language Arts.

“It’s best practice,” Mr. Garrido continued, “We never close the doors. We want to make sure that the decisions that we make are in the best interest of the students . . .There’s always pros and cons and we have to weigh what’s in the best interest of the children.”

Mr. Crevani added a closing remark, “If there was a shift, I think we might have thought about possibly doing it as rolling it out with the earlier grades like let the 4th and 5th grades finish out like they’re doing now. Just an idea.  There are ways to go about implementing new policies and practices rather than just throwing them upon the kid the first day of school which is not fair.”

“I believe that we should have a lot better communication,” the BOE President agreed, stating that it should include the students, especially in the fifth grade when students are able to understand such issues.

Through all the discussions, perhaps the lesson that can be taken from it is that – contrary to the contemporary belief that asking automatically means getting – one should not stop asking questions but continue to do so because if no redress is made, those elected may not fully know what needs to be addressed. Additionally, on the Board’s (and government’s) end, perhaps notifying those who will be impacted before such a decision is implemented might result in less confusion and more understanding from a proactive stance.