2000-05-13 / Columnists

A View From The Bridge

By Joan Mettler

One of the more exciting times in a college bound student's life is the application/visitation process. The family of the high school senior who has made applications to college can not help getting into the swing of things as the temperature of the household rises and falls with the delivery of the daily mail. These high school upper classmen at the age of 16, 17 or 18 experience mood swings, abandonment, and, eventually exhilaration as they make the ultimate decision that truly shapes the student's entire future. What's the talk at the dinner table? College. What's the talk as the senior breezes out of the house for meaningless classes in the spring and summer of high school's last hurrah? College. And, all the other children in the house play second and third fiddle to the high school student until a decision is reached.

What about the poor parents? In between trying to keep the status quo during the week, they spend a goodly number of weekends doing the northeast college tour. And those same parents, who, in the beginning of the application process were bravely facing the empty nest syndrome, reach the point where the actual send off doesn't seem so catastrophic after all.

Let us take a similar scenario, but this time depict the student as an eighth grader whose family has chosen to educate their children in the public schools. Here we have a 13-year-old going through the high school application process, sweating out judgement day. A Rockaway eighth grader, knowing that he will be separated from many of the friends made in junior high, is forced to endure all of the emotions he has not got the maturity to handle in the high school scramble. You see, very few Rockaway eighth graders, for probably the same reasons they opted out of the neighborhood to attend junior high, opt not to attend our local high school. During the time applications are being considered, much like their siblings four years their senior, these eighth graders and their families are emotional wrecks. When acceptances or rejections are mailed to these youngsters, those who gain acceptance to their chosen high schools are elated. Those who are rejected are devastated. Parents of students who have been rejected from their choice high schools are so desperate they have been known to rent studio apartments in neighborhoods where there are desirable zoned schools. You see, the child's future hangs in the balance. The scene is not a pretty one.

Let us take a similar scenario, but this time the student is a Rockaway fifth grader. Here, we are talking about a ten or eleven year old having to go through the process of application/acceptance/rejection that a high school senior can barely handle. The family is chaotic awaiting word of acceptance. Pressure is exerted upon the child by her peers, her family and, more profoundly, by herself. Why is all of this school scramble pressure a Rockaway reality? Because the local junior high school is not an option. Why is the junior high not an option? Because, according to two people who have intimate knowledge of the school and the programs, none of the programs work. Why don't the programs work? Ask those school board members who have been on the board for nearly a decade, years prior to the Chancellor's New Governance Policy. Apparently, those veterans feel the local junior high is just fine because there have been no discernable changes that would attract our local families.

Where has this left Rockaway fifth graders? They are being forced to endure the same emotional roller coaster as their brothers and sisters in the eighth and twelfth grades - and they are only eleven years old. Rockawayites are being forced to send their eleven year olds on a bus to Brooklyn if they are lucky because despite the efforts of community minded individuals to improve the local junior high, it is still, according to the number of empty seats (600+) judged as substandard and unsafe.

It is high time we did make an effort as a neighborhood to nurture the children who grow up here. As parents, we must demand better schools and be prepared to put time in to change that, which, to this point, is unacceptable. Why should our fifth graders be separated from many of their friends and neighbors when they are forced out of the neighborhood to attend junior high? Why can't our children go from kindergarten through twelfth grade with their neighbors and friends in their own neighborhood as many of the adults in the neighborhood did?

Residents of the community must get active if we intend to halt the destruction of the bedrock of our children's society. Demand from our politicians answers and action. Persevere until our local junior high becomes one of which we may all be proud. Seventeen or 18 must be the youngest ages where children must suffer through the school application process and lose many of their friends. Remember, a Rockaway child's society is divided and re-divided three times by the time he reaches his senior year in high school, obliterating any chance for the lifelong friendships enjoyed by those of preceding generations. Is this the best we can do for our children?


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