School Climate & Safety Letter to the Editor

Reimagining Middle School Years to Help Students Overcome Challenges

March 15, 2016 1 min read

To the Editor:

Close to 200,000 students in Los Angeles public schools are middle-grades students—5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th graders—who are either launched onto the path to graduation or knocked off track during these years. Although research has definitively shown that experiences in the middle grades have substantial impacts on high school graduation and success in college, not enough attention has been paid to these formative years.

That must change.

Middle-grades students face many challenges that can severely impact academic performance. According to United Way, one out of three 7th graders in Los Angeles County shows signs of depression, and one out of two 8th graders does not take algebra, a gateway to higher-level thinking. If we want to strengthen our economy, we can no longer remain silent in the face of deleterious learning conditions and opportunities.

The middle grades are a time when adolescents experience immense social, emotional, and physical changes. We can help students in these grades become who they want to be by providing innovative and meaningful learning opportunities. For example, the middle grades are a good opportunity to introduce a new language, whether it be a student’s second or third. And let’s encourage our teachers to “loop” with their students to the next grade, a practice that gives students a sense of continuity that’s otherwise absent in the class-shuffling middle grades.

Because I believe that the best ideas come from the grassroots, I authored a school board resolution for the Los Angeles Unified School District: “Creating a Collaborative to Focus on the Middle Grades.” This was designed to bring together a team of students, parents, educators, school leaders, researchers, and district staff to create a framework to reimagine our middle grades. It passed unanimously. I hope that districts across the state and nation will also make a similar commitment, so that we can turn the middle grades into a steppingstone to high school graduation and a pathway to college and life success.

Ref Rodriguez

Board of Education Member

Los Angeles Unified School District

Los Angeles, Calif.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2016 edition of Education Week as Reimagining Middle School Years to Help Students Overcome Challenges


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