The importance of community service has always played an integral role in the shaping of a well-rounded, successful student at each grade level within the Westerly School District. Life-long learners should be cognizant of the needs of others and be willing to offer assistance to help meet those needs. Nowhere within the district is that goal more apparent than in the Westerly Middle School seventh and eighth grade Granite Team curriculum.
During holiday periods of the past several years, Granite Team students have reviewed the needs of community members who, for a variety of reasons, appeared to be unable to provide sufficient amounts of food and other personal essentials for members of their families. To help address those deficits the students surveyed those needs and conducted food drives and sought monetary donations designed to fill the gaps. One of the most noteworthy facets of the holiday program allowed the students to participate in the development of actual shopping lists and budgets that served as guides while groups of students shopped for products in local stores to be placed in gift baskets that were distributed to individuals and families in need.
The Community Service Project curriculum is designed to help develop planning strategies, purchasing skills, and social interaction abilities. The students are then provided with an opportunity to actually apply those skills in a real life situation — teaching and learning at its best.
Several days ago, faculty members of the Westerly Middle School Granite Team were informed that the Community Service Project would not be approved for the approaching 2017 holiday season. Recently appointed Westerly schools superintendent Mark Garceau did not approve the program, indicating that he was opposed to the program because it detracted from instructional time that could be better utilized in improving student performance on state mandated tests.
Needless to say both the faculty and the students of the middle school Granite Team were sorely disappointed with the decision. One of the instructional highlights of the fall semester was being canceled.
Upset by the proposed cancellation, a number of concerned Granite Team students, both past and present, and accompanied by a room full of equally concerned parents, attended a Westerly School Committee meeting last week in hopes that their concerns would be heard by both school committee members as well as the superintendent himself. Students and parents alike highlighted the many positive aspects of the Community Service Project and pleaded for its continuation. Since the issue was not an agenda item for that specific meeting no decision or action was taken at that time.
As a retired school district administrator with more than 40 years experience in education, I certainly understand the need for, as well as the importance of, testing.
I have also come to understand that no child, no teacher, and no school should be defined solely by test scores. Instructional excellence can and does occur in our local classrooms, and yet there are students in those settings who might be unable to attain high scores. Education today has become too enamored with test results with far too much instructional time being devoted to test preparation. With so much testing throughout the school year, teachers are finding it difficult to meet their curriculum goals.
The proposed cancellation of the Community Service Project would eliminate an opportunity for our middle school students to become engaged in applied learning experiences. Rather than simply scrap a program that students thoroughly enjoy, one that has been so successful and well-received within the community for the past 20 years, perhaps a better approach would be for the superintendent to meet with Westerly Middle School Principal Paula Fusco, faculty members from the Granite Team, and student representatives from the middle school seventh and eighth grades. Together they could review the goals of the project, modify or refine the curriculum, and at the same time accommodate district goals.
Students themselves may have ideas concerning ways to address the test scores issue. But most assuredly there are a number of curriculum goals within the current Community Service Project that exist outside of the realm of “fund raising and charitable giving.” It is those goals that must become the focus as the Community Service Program is allowed to continue.