Even those of us for whom school days are a distant memory can’t help but feel that fall brings a fresh start.
For some area students, the new school year means a new school building. Some elementary school students in Oneonta and in the Unatego school district who used to walk to school are riding buses, or vice versa, as budget constraints have forced those districts to shuffle pupils in new ways.
It will no doubt be hard for many Oneontans to see children being ferried away from, rather than to, the former Center Street Elementary School, which now houses the district offices. And the shakeup in Unatego, which has divided students by grade level and split them between two elementary school buildings, has not been easy for some parents to swallow, either.
For the most part, these changes will become less jarring over time. Children — and their parents — will adapt to new routines, and the ups and downs of everyday life will overshadow the hardships of longer travel times or other issues.
A new school year is a nearly bottomless well of opportunity. Young minds are shaped by the school experience, not just in learning what used to be called the “three Rs — reading, writing and ‘rithmetic,” but through extracurricular activities and social interactions with their peers.
The experience isn’t always positive. Social pressures range from annoying to devastating, especially for tweens and young teens. Students who struggle academically or who have learning disabilities may feel like school is a prison or means of torture.
And it can be a struggle for teachers and administrators, too. Meeting the disparate needs of a classroom full of students, including those with special needs, can challenge even the most seasoned educator, not to mention the teacher who’s just starting his or her career.
In an age when the test is king, teachers must find a balance between preparing students for exams and incorporating other teaching methods and subject matter. With most area schools scoring below the state average on standardized tests for students in grades 3 through 8, there is clearly room for improvement, but it’s not clear how to bring scores up — or even if the tests are valid measures of how well children are learning.
We know that we don’t live in Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.” But we can still hope for the best for local children — and we certainly hope the state sees fit to give local districts what they need to help our students learn, grow and achieve great things.