As a parent in the community I keep finding myself in lots of swirling conversations about merging our middle schools. More specifically, as a parent of a high school freshman and senior, I easily offer that this shift is long overdue and would be an important move in the right direction. I don’t offer this perspective because I am on the other side of what is seemingly a big change; I genuinely believe this would be in the best interest of students.
For parents with elementary school–age children, it is hard to envision our children leaving the cocoon of our nurturing elementary schools, but by the time our kids are12 they are eager and ready to swim in a bigger pool with more social opportunities, more after-school activities and more academic options. Unfortunately, the seventh- and eighth-grade middle school experience at Harwood Union just doesn’t fulfill these needs. To be clear, this is not because of a lack of positive intentions, efforts and focus on the part of educators and administrators. The size is just not robust enough and just as the middle school building is an “add-on” to the high school building, the middle school program itself can feel like an add-on, versus a true middle school experience that Crossett Brook currently offers.
Let me offer up some truths. Did you know middle school athletics are already mixed between our two schools – requiring our students to get bused to either school after regular classes and that Valley parents are already picking up their kids from sports practices in Waterbury? Did you know that the majority of middle school extracurriculars are athletics, and due to small cohort groups it is near to impossible to offer other robust after-school offerings like art, yearbook, newspaper or debate clubs? Not to mention, the available high school spaces to field different interests prioritize the high school programs, as they should, but it makes the middle school program more anemic. Theater offerings, language classes, access to art and photography studios are either not accessible or shoehorned in after the needs of the high school program are met. Did you know many Valley parents have already voluntarily moved their children to Crossett Brook and are taking on the drive time because they feel it is a preferable option?
Middle school is a challenging socio-emotional time for children. These emerging teenagers deserve the focus of a true middle school experience. Middle school teachers deserve the company of a larger cohort of colleagues to structure programs and provide support to each other. While I appreciate that change is difficult what I champion is a positive programmatic change for our children that will carry them more strongly into high school and be a positive force to improve our entire educational experience from Waterbury to Warren. We are not the sum of our towns; we are the sum of the community we care to envision. Please support a more robust, focused and unified experience for our middle school students through a merger.
Eva Frankel lives in Waitsfield, Vermont.