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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Good kids in a supposedly rough school



Jhop  I had a unique perspective volunteering at John Hopkins Middle School this week, just as the news broke that the staff is feeling they are losing control of the school. In the wake of a big brawl on campus Friday and a report that the school has had 60 arrests this year for fights and disruptions, about three times the number of the next most disruptive school, it's no wonder they feel that way.

On Monday I showed up to volunteer for my friend Jenny Butkus's journalism class, and the campus was quiet. A friendly staffer at the office summoned a student to take me to the class where Jenny, the journalism coordinator for the schools literary magnet program, had asked me to help them push through their final stories for deadline week. I picked up a copy of their award-winning newspaper, the JHop Times, which has been pegged three years in a row by Weekly Reader as one of the best middle school newspapers in the country. The lead story in its last issue was headlined "School fights rise 25 percent from last year."

On Tuesday the story was on 1A of the Times about a "huge campus disruption" on Friday that put a spotlight on discipline problems, including at least 60 arrests since September.

When I arrived for my volunteer duty on Tuesday, there were four police cars in the parking lot, and a pack of officers were manning the hallways. When I entered Jenny's classroom, her eighth graders were furiously penning letters to the editor. The buzz on campus was palpable and these kids were feeling hurt that their good work would drown under the avalanche of negative press. 

Among the letters the students wrote:

  • "I am not saying that we shouldn't recognize the fights that go on here because I understand it is a big problem in our community, and we do need to fix it, but what about the positive things we have done, the awards we've won?"  -- Treniece Green, eighth grade
  • "I'm always worried about someone beating me up or stealing my bike every day!" -- Justin Mosher, eighth grade
  • "I understand that the number of arrests and fights are extremely high, and I understand why you wrote about it but John Hopkins has so much more than its reputation." -- Julia Mendez, seventh grade
  • "I hope the bad people at the school change their mind on their behavior." -- Benjamin Ketmany, seventh grade

That says it all doesn't it? Even the principal says his frustration is he can't rid the campus of the chronic troublemakers who are giving it a black eye. Meanwhile the performing arts magnet students there rack up awards in music and art contests statewide and nationally, and the literary students produce fantastic work. They have classes in band, chorus, steel drums, dance, drama, Spanish, French and TV production, just to name a few.

The problem, I am told, is mostly off campus. Kids take their neighborhood feuds to school and you can physically see the warring camps as they leave campus and set up on opposite sides of a nearby park. The School Board is weighing how to deal with this, but promises action.

So what would you do if you had a talented student who could benefit from this school's programs? I think parents need to keep in mind that if they had a kid who merely went to school there, wasn't walking to and from school in a rough neighborhood, chances are good they are not affected by this. Read this touching tribute to Gibbs High School from a former student who is shocked by the school's F Grade. It shows how talented kids will bloom wherever they land.

-- Sharon Kennedy Wynne

[Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 11:05am]


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