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It's Not About Pay-to-Participate

Tolland's pay-to-participate program is but one piece of an environment that is severely narrowing opportunity for today's students.

The reported highest-in-the-state pay-to-participate program, which includes both sports and clubs, currently in effect at Tolland schools is getting a lot of attention lately, and it should. The fact that the Superintendent and BOE say that it will only get worse under the Town Manager’s proposed budget should also be thoroughly and thoughtfully debated before we are asked to vote on May 1st.  I would argue, however, that this policy is but one symptom of the narrowing of opportunities available to public school students. This narrowing of opportunity should be alarming to anyone who cares about this generation of future leaders.

Lack of sufficient financial resources is clearly one major cause of this narrowing.  When available resources are less than what it costs to offer programs, something has to give. While our academic programs have certainly seen their share of hits, co-curriculars and “specials” tend to get the worst of it. Why? Simply put, there’s no standardized test for art. 

And that leads me to the second reason our students’ worlds are shrinking: policy and law have elevated the standardized test to an entirely outsized role in the task of helping young people develop into educated, well-rounded adults. When was the last time your Tolland student went on a field trip? This isn’t a budget question. Families have always paid for these trips. Field trips are not happening for the most part because teachers are preparing students for the almighty test. Conversely, you can probably recall when they last had a “benchmark” --- it was probably yesterday! We know from both research and experience that human beings learn by DOING. The current educational paradigm does not account for that basic fact.

Public school should, at its core, be about OPPORTUNITY. It should be about being able to try things that you might not otherwise be exposed to. So, YES, the curriculum and budget should include band and string instruments and sports and art in all its forms and chorus and student journalism and graphics and architecture and civics and other cultures…  it should be about exposure to as wide a world as possible. It should also be about talented, well-trained teachers guiding students to logical conclusions, not about adhering to a pacing guide that has you hurtling through material and dreading another snow day.

Last fall, a friend of mine, a second grade teacher in another district, was preparing for parent conferences. She observed that, with all of the assessment she was required to do, she felt she barely knew her students as people. She could convey information about their reading levels and math prowess, but not as much about the type of learners her students were. This clearly troubled her and it has stuck with me. The magic in learning happens within the connection between teacher and student. It’s when the ah-ha moment can be crafted for a child because the teacher knows how that kid ticks and can make that connection. It feels like the system has conspired to minimize the opportunity for these connections.

No child ever determined who they wanted to be in the world by taking a test. It’s involved parents and talented educators that play the primary role in shaping a student’s world. Those educators come in the form of teacher, coach, principal, school secretary, school nurse --- all of the adults our children interact with. The genesis of these lost opportunities is both local and external. I hope this community will do all it can to maximize our children’s access to learning on all levels – on the playing field, in the classroom and in the world beyond Tolland.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sharon March 21, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Very well said. Clearly we all have a lot to talk about before we vote on any budget. I hope we are all given that oppurtunity and our concerns are heard.
Holly Linton March 21, 2012 at 03:20 PM
OUTSTANDING!
D March 21, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Great piece, but I'm afraid you're "preaching to the choir". Many of the "no" voters don't seem to see any value in educating beyond the 3 R's and probably will not be persuaded by this. I agree a public school education should be full of opportunities and exposure to new areas - during and after school.That is sadly lacking in our current schools. School is now mostly about teaching for the benchmark and then moving on to the next benchmark - little time for exploring topics more in depth and no time or money for art, tech, music, computers or world language. I hope more people speaking up at the meeting next week have your balanced "total educational needs" approach and don't just mention the high pay to play fees (which we should all just agree at the beginning of the meeting are incredibly high!). Our schools and our town have so many other needs, too, that a no or very low increase budget can't begin to address.
Tolland Resident-C March 22, 2012 at 02:24 AM
I agree with everything you have stated Diane. What I have yet to see discussed (maybe I missed it somewhere along the line of replies/comments) is the line in the the budget that is spent on special education costs, including many children who are receiving services for behavioral problems. I’m talking about those costs that are paid to outside agencies for specialized staffing, to the facility that the child is out-placed to, or the additional paraprofessionals needed for the children that remain mainstreamed. I realize this is a very touchy topic, but hear me out.. There are more and more children diagnosed with autism, more and more children with behavioral issues and so on, that by law, the school must address and provide services for. . I have absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, against children with special needs. As a matter of fact, I have great empathy for these children and their parents/families. However, with the system as it is structured now, coming up with a school budget is like taking a shot in the dark. There is no way to foresee or predict new children coming into the school system with special needs or children that will be officially diagnosed, making them eligible for all sorts of additional/specialized services and staffing. continued
Tolland Resident-C March 22, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Based on everything that I am aware of with regards to school budgets, until we address the enormously growing population of special needs and serious behavioral issues and the unpredictable financial burden that that puts on a school budget, we will continue to beat our heads aimlessly against the wall year in and year out. No names need be provided as it is a violation of privacy, but I think the public has the right to see the portion of the budget that was spent on these outside agencies, facilities, and the cost to provide transportation to and from, for last year, and the past 5 or 6 years leading up.. I'm willing to bet that much of the public has no idea the level of money spent on these services. Again, I am not in any way saying the children do not need the services. What I am saying is, the system the way it is set up now, is not conducive to “budgeting”. . A mere phone call that a new resident has moved in with a special needs child or a newly diagnosed child who becomes eligible for a host of services or outplacement, that is not included in the budget blows the whole budget out the window. So, in closing, until all the facts (individual line by line) of what actually makes up the budget is on the table for the public to review, this annual budget saga will go on indefinitely with everyone blaming one side or another!
JK March 22, 2012 at 03:13 AM
BOE budget sent to Town Manager, with line item detail you are looking for. http://www.tolland.k12.ct.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_891568/File/Business_Services/executivesummary_20120301111302.pdf Also checkout tolland.org - http://www.tolland.org/government/departments/finance/2012-2013-budget-information/ If you don't see what you are looking for, then ask the Superintendent.
JK March 22, 2012 at 02:26 PM
On my way to work a couple of years ago, listening to NPR.  Frank Deford, a well known sports commentator was giving what I thought was his typical sports speech.  I was surprised by his commentary that I went to the NPR website to find it….   Sweetness & Light – By Frank Deford…   “And now that so many American school districts –– even whole states –– are facing reductions in school funding, more and more, it is athletics that are being cut back. Sometimes now, public school sports survive only by the grace of private donations, from parents and fans. Of course, it's not just sports that are prime prospects for elimination, but also art and music. After all, sports, art and music, the S-A-M of school –– what I call the SAM activities –– are known as extracurricular, emphasis on the "extra." They're the logical expenses to slash before you take down the educational basics: reading, writing, arithmetic......continued
JK March 22, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Continued.. Sweetness & Light – By Frank Deford… continued: It's impossible not to argue with this rationale, but it's also true that when children who are artistic or musical are denied that opportunity in school, their young personal loss eventually not only robs them of developing their talent but diminishes us as a culture. And to knock out athletic exercise at a time when childhood obesity is an absolute epidemic could be just as damaging for the health of the nation. David Brooks, in a recent New York Times column, also notes that administrators who cut the SAM activities are deluding themselves, because in the long run, these are interests that "keep kids in school and build character."
Susie Lotreck March 23, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Thank you Diane, Tolland Resident-C, and JK for this vital discussion before we vote on May 1st. I believe ALL Tolland School children should be given the same opportunities that exist in neighboring PUBLIC school systems that exist 10 miles away from us. I don't want to have to uproot my family to get it -- I love our Tolland community and all the families that have become near and dear to me and my family. Therefore, I continue to be a supporter of and will ALWAYS advocate for a town budget that properly funds the S-A-M & other co-curricular activities -- that are proven to be essential in developing the "whole" child == creating a "life-wide learner". Yes, I recognize that it was my choice to live in a bedroom community that currently does not provide the economic development opportunities required to provide much needed financial resources to keep up with the town's growing costs. Thus, I am committed to do what is needed in my personal budget to provide my share of the much needed revenue to sustain and grow our community. FYI -- I invite you to go to www.friendsoftollandschools.org to read up on what has taken place so far in this year's budget process and much more information. This site was created by parent volunteers working hard for our community.
Johnny Cro March 28, 2012 at 01:59 PM
With limited state and federal funding, Tolland can only survive by raising taxes and reducing spending, ie school cuts (academics, staffing, sports, clubs, etc.). Gov. costs go up annually It's time wake up from our "bedroom community" and realize that. Tolland has an opportunity to generate revenue and jobs by utilizing it's close proximity to I-84 & Uconn. Route 195 from Cider Mill Ext. to Baxter, along with route 30 to route 74, are prime real estate for stategic developement. We need to be proactive before it is too late. A few years ago, Mansfield talked about a retail/residential area across the street from E.O. Smith. Have you been by there lately, it's nearly done. Let's talk about our "village project" some more. Perhaps another taxpayer funded study? It's timer to get her done! And enough with p&z sticking thier nose in every aspect of a developer's plan. Developers have people that are paid to develope properties that work. Look at the Big Y. They wanted to build a larger store but the p&z limited them. Shopping there is fustrating at times with over crowded isles and displays. "And don't forget, you must use stones that were harvested from the excavation for the stone walls in front." Give me a break! I prefer the Ellington Big Y plaza. Lots more room to manuever-get in & get out. And a McDonalds to boot. I would love to spend more money in Tolland if only there were more places to do do so. Build it and they will come. Money, jobs and a future for our youth.
C. Alexander March 30, 2012 at 09:48 AM
Well- said! I totally agree !
Megan Bard (Editor) April 23, 2012 at 12:59 AM
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