Back in September, I wrote about how sometimes history is slippery, especially when the event in question was such a point of common knowledge at the time that no one thought to write it down. Such appears to have been the case with Fort Collins Junior High School, which started some time in the 1920s. In the "slippery history" post I narrowed down the origins of the junior high to some time between 1924 and 1928. But the evidence that I found for those dates seemed rather circumstantial. The 1928 date came from a booklet printed in 1975, or almost 50 years after the fact. And the 1924 date came from a book printed in 1994, 70 years after the fact. Neither of these documents contained source references to support the given dates. So for all I know they pulled them out of someone's cloudy recollection of a vaguely probable junior high beginning.
So I recently peddled over to the newly opened history archive at the Discovery Center (correction: "Fort Collins Museum of Discovery" or FCMoD. I'm not sure that you should try to pronounce the acronym.) where Jayne set me up at a microfilm machine with the September (and following) 1920 edition of the Fort Collins Courier. I found out all sorts of things that morning. The League of Nations was a huge point of contention with folks. Sugar prices were doing really well. Some guy named Cox said such and such. Republicans were holding a meeting in town. Warren Harding said such and such. Teachers weren't getting paid enough after World War II. Democrats were holding a meeting. That Cox guy said some other thing about such and such. Sugar prices started to go down. Bolsheviks were apparently running rampant. Cox and Harding were mentioned again. FDR (Yes, THE FDR!) came and spoke in Fort Collins. Harding won the presidential election. (Turns out he had been running against Cox. No wonder I hadn't heard of the guy.) And then... lo and behold! there was a mention of needing a junior high in town. Woot!
It turns out that in 1920, the schools were bursting at the seams in Fort Collins. There had been talk of building a new high school, but the idea was soundly put down like Daryl or Shane would put down a walker on the Walking Dead. The idea wasn't going anywhere, in other words. (The Courier article states that folks weren't happy with the proposed location for the new building, though I suspect some folks weren't real happy about having to pay for a whole new building when they'd just built the current high school building 17 years previous.) The Courier article that I found states that, "It is not so much that the present high school is over crowded, but that the grade schools are very much in need of more room. Some of the rooms accomodate from fifty to sixty pupils, where there ought to be only thirty-five or forty." (Can I add about a hundred exclamation points after that?! I've taught classes of 35 high schoolers at a time and let me tell you, there's a special circle of hell that use that same form of punishment. I can't even fathom having a classroom of 60 squirrelly elementary schoolers.)
One of the proposed solutions was to form a separate junior high. (Oh yeah, baby! By this point in scanning through microfilm, I was starting to go bug eyed and loopy. I nearly jumped up and danced around the room when I saw those two little words.)
I thought the reasoning behind starting a junior high was particularly interesting... to keep the students' interest so that they would continue on to high school rather than dropping out and finding a job. My kids are right at the cusp between middle school and high school and I can't imagine any of them quitting school to find a job. I can hardly get them to pick up after themselves; I certainly can't imagine them bringing home a paycheck!
I now feel like I have a nice, solid data point that I can use in narrowing down the start date of the Fort Collins Junior High school. At the very least, I know there wasn't a junior high in 1920. Unfortunately, that's as far as I got in terms of trudging through microfilm before the Archives closed for lunch and I headed off to eat lunch myself and then go hear the 7th annual Tuba Christmas in Oak Street Plaza. (Brrrrr! It dropped 8 degrees during the hour that they played!) But right before I left, Jayne-the-Archive-gal found another bit of junior high data. In 1928, there was a listing of the district staff in the Courier.
It's interesting to note that the junior high consisted only of 7th and 8th graders. The 9th grade stayed with the high school. But some 6th grade classes were held in the junior high annex. There were also sixth grade classrooms in the Remington building (demolished in 1968. I'm not sure where on Remington it was located.) and the Laurel Building (now Centennial High School on Laurel Street). So clearly 6th grade wasn't seen as being a part of the junior high.
With this I feel like I finally have some hard data points on when the junior high was established... some time between 1921 and 1928. I'm hoping to hit the Archives again soon and see if I can zoom in a little closer. I know, I know. These numbers are wider than what I had before, but at least I feel like they're a bit more solid.
And, for future historians that come across this article and wonder where the heck I got my information from, here are my sources.
Grundy, Emerald. "What Are We Going to Do About Our High School Problems?" Fort Collins Courier 7 Oct. 1920: n. pag. Print.
"Assignment of Teachers, 1928-1929." Fort Collins Courier 19 Sept. 1928: 16. Print.
The Coloradoan had an article today about the McKinney Backpack program that delivers food weekly to Poudre School District students who may not have enough food to get them through the weekend. According to the article, approximately 30% of students within the district are on Free or Reduced Lunch, which is basically code for saying that they live at or close to the national poverty level. Statewide, the average is 40% within a school district, so we're doing better than most of the school districts in Colorado. In other words, as the article pointed out, we're a fairly affluent community, but we do still have poor folks living amongst us. And a chunk of those poor folks are kids. Those kids are growing up in an environment that is low in resources and support. There are programs like the McBackpack project that help, but as Madeline Novey, the author of the article pointed out, even that is only minimally helping a section of those in severe need and the finances may not be there to keep the program going at its current level. So what are we, as a community, doing to help make sure these kids grow and thrive and become productive members of our society?
I'll tell you what we're not doing. We're not providing the resources necessary to educate many of these students to the level that they'll need to be at if they're going to break out of the cycle of poverty. We've asked our school district to educate the children in the community. The district's tag line is "Educate... Every Child, Every Day." But some kids are mountains and some kids are mole hills and we're (as a community) giving more resources to the mole hills than to the mountains.
Education involves more than sending a kid to school and teaching them the three Rs. To begin with, there's the beginning. There's the time between birth and age 5 when kids are educated primarily at home. According to a study published in 1995 by Betty Hart and Todd Risley (pdf), children in low income households are raised hearing about 1/3 of the vocabulary that their classmates raised in professional class families hear. So before even reaching one of the district's kindergarten classes, our lower income students are at an educational disadvantage. They lacked the resources that their fellow students had simply by being raised by parents that talked more with them as they grew up... never mind the fact that the lower income kids may have also suffered nutritional or socioemotional setbacks.
Once the kids are in school, resources are allocated in a student based format. For each student in the school in October, the school receives X amount of dollars. Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch also net the school an additional amount of money which is calculated as a percentage of X (in this case, a 20% increase or 1.2X). This adjustment is made in deference to the fact that it's going to take more resources to bring that student up to speed. There are also factors that increase per student spending based on whether the student is an English language learner (ELL - a 20% bump) or a Gifted and Talented student (GT - a 10% bump). If a student is both on free and reduced lunch (FRL) and ELL, rather than getting a 40% bump, they get a 25% increase in their per student funding. (This information is from the Poudre School District summary of student based budgeting (pdf).)
There's no easy way to do a mathematical comparison of the support these FRL kids are able to receive with the additional 20% or 25% of funding the school is receiving on their behalf compared to their more financially secure classmates, but I'm going to take a stab at it none-the-less. Let's assume that X - the amount allocated per student in the student based budget - is sufficient to educate a well supported student from K through 12 so that when they graduate they are graduating at grade level. If you consider an elementary student (who only has one teacher as opposed to middle and high schoolers who have multiple) then in a classroom of 20 students, that student's budgetary portion contributes 1/20th towards the teacher's salary as well as to other resources within the school that enable that student to attend. A FRL student contributes an additional 20% which, in a classroom of 20 students, means an additional 1% of resources. Since 30% of students in Poudre school district are on free or reduced lunch, that would mean that 6 out of those 20 students are probably FRL and the classroom is receiving an additional 6% of resources to account for the extra work required to help bring those students up to par for their grade level.
Now let's compare that to a student that has a solid amount of at home support. They get home from school and grab a healthy snack. They may take a bit of a break, but then their mom comes over and pesters them about getting started on their homework. Around the dinner table, there's conversation that translates to more vocabulary experiences for that child. At night that kid's parents make sure they go to bed at a reasonable hour so they have enough sleep to perform well the next day. In the morning they're woken up so that they have enough time to get ready and get to school on time. And the family has the resources to get the child to school if they miss the bus or to drive a large project to school so that it doesn't get mangled on the way. And the family has the financial resources to get medical, dental or optical help for their child if there is a problem. Does all of that sound like a 1% level of increased support over and above what the average free and reduced lunch child would be getting? Not even close. And that's why it takes more than just a school district to educate a child, but that's also why I believe the school district needs to allocate a greater level of resources towards those without.
We have kids in our district who are getting help thanks to McBackpacks and a 20% or 25% increase in school funding as well as through other avenues. But it's really not enough to get them to a point where, when they graduate from high school, they'll have the same level of choices that their more financially stable peers have. (For some, it's not even enough to get them through high school. The drop out rate among ELL and FRL students is much higher than among other students.) And to make matters worse, many of these low income students are herded together into the same schools, meaning that the inequalities stand out with an even sharper contrast when compared to schools with 30% or less FRL population.
Rather than receiving the benefit of strong Parent/Teacher Organizations (PTOs or PTAs) that can help take up the slack, the fact that the poor population often overlaps with the English language learning population means weak PTOs due to parents holding more than one job or not speaking the language or even knowing what a PTO is and how they can be involved. It also means that there are fewer parents at the school with the means or language skills to advocate well for their students and their school. Grouping these kids together in a few specific schools essentially reduces their voice in the community, making the weakest among us also the most silent.
The idea of a student based budget appears to be sound. I like that it puts a lot more control into the hands of those that run each school. You have to be actively involved in a school to best understand its needs and requirements. But the percentages don't appear, to me, to be sufficient to deal with the lack of resources that many of our low income population are experiencing. I believe that the percentages need to be re-examined, but I also believe that the district and the community (city/county) need to partner together to help support these families. If we really want to educate every child every day, then we need to provide an environment that enables that to happen.
I help out in a math class at Poudre High School that has the goal of bringing students who are behind in math up two grade levels within one year. It's a daunting task, both for the teacher and the students. Covering pre-algebra and algebra within one school year is like putting students through a double portion of math Purgatory. It's hard. It's no fun. And it's a lot of work. But it's clear to me when I'm in that classroom that there are students benefitting from it. And I know that making it through that class can be one piece of the puzzle that enables that student to make something of their life. It's a thrill to help out in that classroom, to get to know the students, and to see the growth and improvement that they're showing despite their struggles.
I tell you about my volunteer experience because I believe that if more people in our community helped out, it would not only make a difference in the lives of these kids, but in our community and in our own lives as well. You may not be cut out to help in an Algebra class, but perhaps you could help fill bags with food for the McKinney backpack program. Or you can drop off clothes to Mary's Closet run by Saint Joe's. Or you can donate money to the county health district that helps low income families get the health care assistance they need. Together I believe we could change our community for the better.
With that idea in mind, and with the realization that many of the schools in need in our community have historically had the least parental representation before the district or the community, several parents with students in these schools have banded together to advocate for these students and these schools. We've named the group NAGS - Northside Advocacy Group for Schools - and we are focusing our attention, for now, on four schools that we feel have been least supported in our district and which house the greatest number of students in need: Putnam and Irish Elementary schools, Lincoln Middle School and Poudre High School. My own kids have attended Lincoln and Poudre and I can speak from experience in saying that these are excellent schools with absolutely fantastic teachers. But they're underfunded. Though they've done great by my kids, they haven't been able to meet the needs of their total population, despite heroic efforts, because the resources simply aren't there.
If you would like to find out more about NAGS, I'd encourage you to check out our Facebook or Google+ pages.
I had to laugh when I was walking the dog yesterday and saw this old car, since I'd just posted about an old car the day before. I suppose old cars have become a mini theme for the week.
I also finally figured out why the parking lot at Oak has been shut down. They're tearing down the Elks Lodge!
Though part of the building was pretty old, it had been entirely remodeled at one point and therefore was no longer elegible for historic designation. So they're apparently trying to take it apart sustainably (which I believe means they're going to try to recycle stuff, though you wouldn't know it from the way they just smashed stuff up to bits). It's all explained on a large sign on the Remington Street side of the building.
I try to get out for a walk every day. Though I'm not always able to pull it off (I missed two walks this week. :-\ ), when I do I'm often rewarded with cool sights. It's usually just a new bunch of flowers popping up, or the Virginia Creeper turning a bright crimson in the crisp autumn weather, but last week I walked by a house that I often venture past and saw something new. Well, actually it was old, but I'd never seen it there before. ... Thought I'd share. :-)