Stronger focus on primary studies carries greater benefit

It’s time for us to face the truth that many students in schools across the country cannot read at their appropriate grade level. While trying to tackle this issue, be it at school board or

It’s time for us to face the truth that many students in schools across the country cannot read at their appropriate grade level. While trying to tackle this issue, be it at school board or parent-teacher meetings, many individuals try to point the blame at someone. It is always either the school’s or parents’/guardians’ fault. I believe the problems lies with both.

During my freshman year at Temple, I became involved in the Big Brother Big Sister program. Since then, I have made weekly trips to Dunbar Elementary to visit my little sister. Throughout my visits to her classroom, I witnessed many discouraging things. First of all, the classroom environment seemed hostile.

On a typical day, most of the students were not paying attention. They were either talking, fighting, throwing things, doing each others’ hair or daydreaming. The teacher did not have any control over the students. Unfortunately, when the teacher did seem to be succeeding in maintaining the students’ attention, he would speak to them in fluent Ebonics. This infuriated me. It just made no sense.

As a result, I decided to visit my sister more frequently during her class time, in order to assist her and her classmates in their course work. In helping the students in social studies, math or reading, I witnessed that many students were at very different reading levels. Many were proficient readers in at least two grade levels lower than their actual grade. I began to understand why some of the students acted out when they were supposed to be concentrating on doing their school work.

I realized that the students were not inherently bad or inflicted with problems, as many teachers and individuals who can not handle them like to believe. Instead, many of the students know that they are not able to handle the work and, as a deterrent, try to direct their attention and the attention of others from understanding their plight as well.

Many school systems just pass children through grades year after year while knowing many students are not ready to proceed, especially in the reading material. If a student’s reading level is below the grade level she is placed in, then it is more likely for the student to perform poorly in other subjects that require in-depth reading. We must not pass students if they are not ready. The common occurrences of school systems passing students along grades all while parents aimlessly succumb due to the negative notion that poorly-performing students are just taking up space, must be stopped.

While I have some problems with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, it seems to act as a force in tackling some of my concerns. Across the country, thousands of schools, in fear of being taken over by the federal government, have taken action by reducing class time spent on subjects, such as science and social studies, and adding as much time that is needed to get students proficient in reading and math grade levels.

As a consequence, other important classes will be eliminated, but it is also unfortunate that students have been passed through the school system despite the cognizance of authority figures, both parents and teachers, in the problem areas of the students.

In regard to Dunbar Elementary and schools across the country that share the same problems, more class time should be allotted to reading, more specifically, reading that will enhance the students’ minds and daily communication skills. The skills a student learns in the class material must be reinforced by the teacher’s daily communication with the student.

However, one cannot think that only incessant reading and appropriate speech used in schools will help a student succeed. Parent/guardians and neighbors of children must work equally with schools to enforce positive learning experiences in the home. Doing so will only help students in the long run.

Diona Fay Howard can be reached at

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