How is the NHS curriculum benefiting our children?

Patrick Newell

Between my own children and my significant other Aida’s, we have seven young ladies and men attending Norwich schools. Six of those seven are either in the middle school or high school. The two of us stand unified in our belief that the challenge of the Norwich curriculum is not acceptable.
The most recent head-scratching decision by the school district was the change in schedule. The standard schedule for non-elementary students was changed to 7:45 a.m to 2:15 p.m. Before, middle school and high school students were dismissed in the 3 p.m. range.
Meanwhile, elementary children are attending school from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. If my math is correct – and I believe it is – a Norwich first-grader now has a longer school day than middle school and high school students. Hmmm? Does that seem right?
I have yet to hear of a intelligent reason that necessitated the shorter school day for older students other than accommodating the bus schedule. The bus schedule has remained nearly the same for at least 40 years. If it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?
Our real concerns are the soft schedule and the relative ease with which kids are able to obtain good grades. I nearly fell over when I saw the middle school schedule for one of our children. As most Norwich parents know, the schedule is blocked and alternates between “Purple” and “White” days. On the first day, our child has a fairly busy schedule of classes, and his day ends with a study hall. Day two, however, is absurdly light. I’ll lay it out for you, and I’m sure our child’s schedule is not unique. In the morning, our child undertakes a rigorous load of English and Art before a much-needed 35-minute lunch. After regrouping during the lunch period, an exhausting homestretch of classes includes Math, study hall, gym, and yes…wait for it, another study hall. Our child’s entire school day, for the first marking period, includes just two academic classes on his “White” day.
I don’t know about other parents, but when I went to Norwich Middle School, I spent my entire day attending classes – EVERY DAY! I had never heard of the term, “study hall” until I reached high school.
The school might argue that the curriculum in place lends itself to success. Just look at the Norwich high school and middle school honor roll lists. Our all-purpose, invaluable employee at The Evening Sun, Jan Rowe, has cramping fingers and early symptoms of carpal tunnel after typing in all of Norwich’s kids on the honor roll. When Norwich reveals its honor roll “honorees” at the end of each marking period, the list is extensive. The past couple of years, I counted the names by grade who either made the high honor or honor roll. In the high school alone, the kids in grades 9-12 on either honor roll list ranged from around 75 kids per grade level to as many as 114. In all, more than 50 percent of the kids attending Norwich High School last year made some sort of honor roll.
Does anyone believe that number is especially high? I flipped back to the honor roll lists from when I was in school. (I had to dust off some old, bound books to acquire this information). The percentage of kids on honor roll or honor roll was around 20 to 25 percent. Aida attended Gonzaga Prep, a private Catholic school in Spokane, Washington. She remembers her school’s honor roll list including 10 to 15 percent of the student body. Are today’s kids, our children, really that much smarter than we were? If you base your conclusion on honor roll lists, the answer would be yes. In truth, we as parents know that conclusion is not true.
Please, do not infer that I believe all children are not deserving of their grades. To me, this abundance of scholastic honorees at Norwich does a disservice to the most deserving, intelligent, and hard-working students who would make the honor roll in any school district in any era of education. I have spoken to a number of recent NHS graduates over the past couple of years. All of them agreed that the Norwich curriculum (save the advanced placement classes) is easy. Some consider it almost laughable.
The honor roll used to be a achievement of distinction. Yet, if the Norwich honor rolls are more inclusive than exclusive, what is that teaching our children?
I certainly do not blame the teachers. They are all working within the system that is in place, and every teacher I personally know is exceptional and dedicated. That said, how can they prepare kids to the best of their ability when they are now given less time to do it?
A shorter school day equals less time in the classroom. How does less classroom time benefit our children?