By Connie Perignat-Lisle

This is in reference to the current proposal to consolidate Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS) and Crossett Brook Middle School (CBMS) and have all students at CBMS.

I think I have a perspective that others might find interesting. One of my children attended HU Middle School seventh grade (1996), Crossett Brook MS eighth grade, the year it originally opened (1997), and then returned to Harwood for grades nine through 12 (graduation Class of 2002). My daughter went through Crossett Brook for her middle school experience and Harwood nine through 12 (graduation Class of 2006). I am a retired Harwood teacher (1995-2014). I was a member of the HUHS math department, chair of the HUHS math department and, before that, a member of the special education department. I was on the committee from Waterbury that made recommendations on how Crossett Brook MS and Harwood MS would align curriculum when Crossett Brook MS was scheduled to open (1996).

Separate does not mean equal. As a parent and a teacher, I saw many examples to support that statement. Is that what we want? I believe it is our responsibility as a community to ensure that all students are well prepared for the challenges and rigor of high school and their lives after high school. If there are not equal opportunities, then some have more advantages than others. However, the reality is that two different school buildings with two different age populations make sharing staff impossible to meet the needs of all, as the requirements for different grade levels within a particular building are different. CBMS has a five to eight population, HUMS and HUHS has a seven to 12. Let me explain.

  • Foreign Language: In 1997, CBMS seventh- and eighth-grade students did not have the same access to foreign language as Harwood seventh- and eighth-graders. French classes were not offered daily or for the same amount of time at CBMS, nor were the programs the same, so that when students went to HU as ninth-graders, they were not as well prepared to take French II as HUMS students were. Spanish was not offered at CBMS, while HUMS students could choose between Spanish or French. This school year, 2018, 21 years after CBMS opened, Spanish is now an option for students. Hurrah! But, that begs the question, are the experiences the same? No, they are still not the same. Seventh- and eighth-graders at HUMS have class 85 minutes every other day, all year long. CBMS seventh- and eighth-graders have class every day for 50 minutes for one semester of French and one semester of Spanish. It’s a different experience for CBMS than HUMS students. Is it a good opportunity for children to taste test which language they prefer to study in high school? I don’t know, but the point is, separate not equal.

Math: For many years, advanced middle school students were given the opportunity to take Algebra I as eighth-graders. In 2001, when my daughter was in eighth grade at CBMS, Algebra I was taught to those students who chose to take it, via satellite, with an HU high school teacher teaching the class to the CBMS students from Harwood! Same experience as the HUMS students meeting their teacher face to face? Hardly! An attempt to provide equal opportunity, but falling well short of the goal. Are both schools offering the same math program now? Yes. Same number of days? Minutes per day? I don’t know.

  • Social Opportunities: Our elementary schools in the district are small, but even Thatcher Brook, while large in comparison to The Valley schools, is small, and the circle of friends can be limited. Valley elementary schools all come to HUMS as seventh-graders and have the chance to broaden their circle of friends. Shouldn’t Waterbury/Duxbury students interact with The Valley students at the same time? Doesn’t it make sense to have all the students integrate to Harwood at the same time? Developmentally, that makes sense to me.
  • Specials: HUMS students have the same teachers for specials (foreign language, art, music, PE) as they will have in high school. Advantage? I’d say so. They know the teacher, know the expectations and are not adjusting to new teachers. Are there specials at CBMS different then HUMS? CBMS has a ski/ride program which allows students to ski/ride for 10 Wednesdays leaving school at 12:45 and skiing till the lifts closes at 4 p.m. CBMS has a Sustainability Program where students are creating and running businesses (cookbooks, earrings, lip balm) and raising chickens for eggs. Different experiences?
  • Scheduling: Because of shared staff, it’s very challenging to schedule for the needs of middle school students. Wouldn’t it make sense to have dedicated staff for the middle school to expand opportunities for all and perhaps make scheduling not so challenging?

The discussion before the board is about whether HUMS should consolidate with CBMS at the Crossett Brook facility. While some folks from The Valley might complain about the additional distance their children will have to commute to get to CBMS, I ask this: “Is 10 more minutes too much?” It might take 10 minutes from Harwood to get to CBMS, but is that really too much for middle school students to commute for two years if the intent is to provide the best educational opportunities for all?

These are my experiences, observations and thoughts from when my children began at Crossett Brook to when I was a teacher at Harwood. There are great things happening at both CBMS and HUMS, but separate does not mean equal at this critical stage before high school. While the board and building committees are exploring new spaces to enhance learning, doesn’t it make sense that our middle school students have the same opportunities and experiences? I highly recommend combining the seventh- and eighth-graders from both schools.

Connie Perignat-Lisle lives in Waterbury Center.