ANOTHER VOICE:Course catalog doesn’t tell the whole story

As an eighth-grade teacher at Wy’east Middle School and parent of former WYMS and HRMS students, I’d like to respond to the recent comments about how to make Wy’east Middle school more “appealing” (Our readers write, May 22). Because the question was asked in a way that implies that Wy’east is lacking in appeal, the focus has inevitably been directed on comparisons between Hood River Middle School and Wy’east, reflecting poorly on Wy’east.

I’d like to sing the praises of the “other” middle school for a moment. In no way do I intend to minimize the quality of what my colleagues are doing at HRMS, nor negate the validity of Trisha Lage’s concerns about equity between the schools.

While it is true that we do not have as many electives as HRMS scheduled into our school day, what has not been mentioned is the variety of seventh-period optional electives that were offered at WYMS by unpaid volunteers and teachers, including soccer club, woodshop, cultural dance, cooking, Pi-time (math), yearbook, girls group, boys group, grief group, native plants, guitar, health media club, homework time, SPROUTs, and sign language.

We provide an after-school bus at 4:30 p.m. so that students can conveniently extend their school day by 1.5 hours with enrichment or help in academic content. During the school day we do offer the robotics and engineering/StRUT elective and even French and Chinese!

The 2014 projected electives seen by incoming sixth-graders were trimmed by the dismal budget forecast and threat of losing yet another teacher and classified staff.

I understand that HRMS parents have been an integral part of funding and participating in some of the exceptional electives offered downtown. As with any school, it takes a village and the village downtown is more affluent and can offer more in that respect. I say kudos to them!

It is a challenging process to create the ideal middle school schedule with time and budget constraints as well as the pressure and responsibility we feel as teachers and administrators to prepare our upper valley students for high school and the state testing benchmarks they must meet to earn a diploma. We’ve changed our schedule to add more time for academics and intervention, as well as P.E. year-round, doing our best to provide all of our students with what they need to be successful when they leave here.

With every change, something must be sacrificed. We’ve decided that it cannot be academics that we sacrifice.

And what about achievement? For a school with our demographic, we have done exceptionally well compared not only to the state, but HRMS. We’ve been on par or exceeded HRMS in terms of numbers of students meeting state benchmark in reading for the past few years and this year is the third year in a row that more of our eighth-graders have met or exceeded in reading. In math we are making changes and gaining, with our numbers coming closer or matching HRMS, depending on the year and grade level.

Our students have repeatedly been regional Oregon Battle of the Books champions and out-rank HRMS every year, placing at the state level. Our new Lego Robotics team had a great year and our Gravity Games team took second place this year.

As our students go on to high school I see them excel and shine as brightly as those students from downtown. Take a look at our outstanding student-athletes, speech and debate teams, and musical theatre programs at HRVHS and you will see WYMS alumni filling the ranks. At least nine out of the last 14 Ford and Gates scholars were Wy’east alumni.

That said, in 2006 when I sent my daughter to WYMS even though we lived downtown, I did so with different motives. The reason I am passionate about representing Wy’east has more to do with the school environment. Consistently substitute teachers that work at both middle schools tell us that Wy’east students still seem like “kids” and are more respectful and — yes, I’m going to say it — less “entitled.” As a parent, I valued that.

I value the sense that there is no “minority” here — that we house the district’s special needs (SLC) program, and our students learn to be comfortable with many forms of diversity. Come walk down our hallways and sense it.

We’ve got a great school and it’s a tremendous privilege for me to work with these upper valley youth. A course catalogue does not capture the essence of school community. Both middle schools appeal.

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Rebecca Swartzentruber is a reading specialist at Wy’east Middle School.

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