Quality Education Requires Rigor and Relevance

6/28/05


Last week I had the honor of addressing the eighth-grade graduating class of Maurice River Township Elementary School. About 50 youngsters received their certificates, and they will move on to Millville Senior High School. I was impressed by their accomplishments and encouraged by their excitement concerning the next step in their lives.

Ten students in the class were acknowledged for earning the highest grade point averages. Six of these youngsters were boys. I was certainly impressed and surprised. Because I know that chances are many of the boys in this eighth-grade class will not graduate from Millville High, if current trends continue. Somewhere along the line, they will get bored, or get in trouble, or take on unintended responsibilities and leave school. What a difference four years can make.

What to do? Everything I read about keeping boys (and girls) in school tells me that we must encourage more rigor and relevance in their curriculum. The students must follow a curriculum in high school that demands them to pursue courses that are challenging enough to assure that, when graduating from high school, they can participate in post secondary education and training programs. And the curriculum must be relevant to their interests and aptitudes. The ninth grade is a critical time to set these expectations. Local schools are recognizing this as evidenced by a program implemented by Vineland High School and Bridgeton High School’s ninth-grade learning community.

A lead article in a local newspaper recently highlighted the success of a young African American woman who graduated from Bridgeton High this year. She’s going to attend Harvard University in September. Her comments about her high school experiences were very telling. She was enrolled in the medical explorers program (relevance) and had teachers who challenged (and supported) her to pursue a very rigorous curriculum. From Bridgeton to Harvard! Atypical you may think. Perhaps. However, I choose to believe that if we have the highest expectations for all our students and put a curriculum in place that is rigorous and relevant to their lives, we will see many more of our youngsters’ talents developed. And they can become a major resource for strengthening Cumberland County.