Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Importance of Lunch

At school yesterday at lunch as I was enjoying my quinoa salad, sun dried tomato hummus and seafood bisque (true story) I began to reflect a bit on school lunch, and just how far we have come with regard to healthy choices and nutrition.  Lunch is an important time for children and faculty alike – it’s a good time to take a breath in the middle of the day, talk to friends and socialize.

Several years ago we made the decision to explore some different food service options and decided to go with a new provider.  Throughout the process, one thing became clear - as is the case in all areas of school life – it’s about the people more than anything else.  So, while we went with a really good company, the manager has made all of the difference.  Conversely, I believe if we had gone with a superstar company with a mediocre chef-manager the change would not nearly be as positive.

When you stop to think about it, being the chef in an independent school is no easy task.  It’s a challenging job to feed 500 people daily, while managing the palates of five-year olds through adults, and young people with a number of different things to be mindful of, from celiac disease to food allergies or diets that are informed by their religion.  Nevertheless, our chef, and the talented staff that he assembled, handles it all with aplomb.

Our staff have a personal connection with the kids, and seem to have gotten to know them all by name in a very short while.  They implore our students to ‘put something green on their plate’, to ‘try the whipped cauliflower (tastes just like mashed potatoes)’ and they listen to their feedback and suggestions.

Well, off to lunch - fajitas, cilantro lime rice and tortilla soup awaits!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Time to Ban Middle School? By ANNA NORTH SEPTEMBER 10, 2014

The sheer unpleasantness of middle school has become something of a cliché; “middle school dance” now stands as a shorthand for any socially awkward experience. And yet, for many of us, middle school is terrible, a time when childhood is sort of over but even the mixed blessings of adolescence have yet to fully present themselves. Now experts are beginning to propose a solution to the problem of middle school: abolish it.
At Pacific Standard, Dana Goldstein argues that middle school students are not, in fact, so consumed with meanness and hormones that it is impossible to teach them anything:
“It isn’t that middle school kids are hopeless, just that middle schools are poorly designed to meet the needs of the students within them, a condition psychologists call a person-environment mismatch. The good news is that researchers already know what might work better.”
Some of the possible improvements she enumerates include giving middle-school teachers more specific training and better pay and teaching kids social as well as academic skills (example: “being able to laugh at yourself”). One, though, is more radical: “Get rid of middle schools entirely.”
Ms. Goldstein cites a 2012 paper by the education professor Martin R. West and the economics researcher Guido Schwerdt, which describes a problem the authors call “the middle-school cliff.” In their analysis of Florida students’ test scores over the course of several years, they found that kids’ performance tended to drop off as soon as they entered middle school. And throughout middle school, their scores remained lower than they likely would have been if they’d just stayed in the same school through eighth grade. Nor did middle school necessarily prepare kids for high school better than staying in K-8 — kids who had entered middle school in sixth grade were more likely to drop out of high school than kids educated at a K-8 facility.
Middle schools were initially founded, Mr. West told Op-Talk, on the theory “that there’s something distinctive about early adolescents, that students are going through this important transition and because of that they have unique educational needs, and those needs could best be met if we created schools that specialized in catering to those needs.”
But separating middle schoolers out may actually be counterproductive. Mr. West said his research couldn’t pinpoint the exact reasons for the cliff, but the most likely explanation was that “there’s something about concentrating early adolescents in the same environment without the presence of students of different ages that creates challenges for education.” Essentially, throwing a bunch of 12- to 14-year-olds together with nobody else to mitigate their 12-to-14-ness might be a bad idea.
“It seems that there are benefits to students in early adolescence of the presence of much younger students,” he explained. “Perhaps that provides opportunities to be a leader, to be involved in mentoring relationships that are beneficial to students as they make the transition into adolescence.”
Middle schools may have some benefits for districts, Mr. West noted, like creating a diverse environment by drawing from multiple elementary schools. And until we know why middle school is bad for kids’ achievement, we can’t necessarily be sure getting rid of it will fix the problem. But, said Mr. West, “our research and that of others makes a strong case that districts should seriously consider alternatives to stand-alone middle schools.”
Those alternatives probably won’t include letting kids lock themselves in a dark room until their skin clears and their braces come off, or any of the other substitutes for school a 13-year-old might dream up. But Ms. Goldstein writes that research on the middle-school cliff has already inspired many schools to switch to K-8: “Perhaps the future of middle school is no middle school at all.”
It’s a future many middle schoolers could probably get behind.
This article is part of Op-Talk, a new feature of NYT Opinion. Get unlimited access to our expanded Opinion section and try our new NYT Opinion iPhone app for free.