Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fall In: Students Report for Safer, Tougher School Year

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fall In: Students Report for Safer, Tougher School Year

Article excerpt

You could almost hear the parents sighing with . . . was that relief? Or regret at the passing of another summer?

It's school bells today for about 43,000 public school students in St. Louis and 140,000 or so in St. Louis County - the area's last and biggest back-to-class wave.

Three students who are looking forward to the new year are twins Jeremy and Joshua Hodge, 15, and Raymond Teague, also 15. All three will start their sophomore year today at a city magnet school, Cleveland Naval Junior ROTC High School. All students at Cleveland wear uniforms and are cadets in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps.

As sophomores, the boys will be eligible for class trips to places such as Key West, Parris Island and San Diego. And they're no longer lowly freshmen.

"Once you've got rank, you can boss the freshmen around a little bit," said Joshua Hodge, grinning.

For all students, this will be a year of tighter security, more technology and harder work.

On the security front, for example: In St. Louis, students at all 21 middle schools will walk into school through metal detectors, already in use in the system's high schools. Surveillance cameras will monitor students in all three Ferguson-Florissant high schools, including McCluer North, where a student was murdered in a bathroom last year.

"Clearly, the issue of safe schools is on everybody's minds, particularly the parents," said Robert Bartman, Missouri's commissioner of elementary and secondary education.

Bartman and other educators promise more computers in classrooms and more learning by Internet and interactive video, which lets students and teachers watch and talk with one another from distant places. The St. Louis system has spent $120,000 to outfit one video classroom each in Sumner and Beaumont high schools for team teaching of one English literature and one Western Civilization course.

The Cooperating School Districts got into interactive video last year, beaming one course in beginning Japanese from their studio in west St. Louis County to a few schools. This year the video menu will be expanded to include Japanese II, Russian I and advanced placement calculus.

No, students won't be required to take courses quite that demanding. But, in general, they'll be working harder.

"There's been a greater focus on academics and the importance of schooling," Bartman said. Statewide he sees more high school students taking more and heavier duty courses and "less of what I call low-track courses such as general math."

In elementary schools, he predicts less "fill-in-the-blanks" and more learning by doing, learning he says sticks.

That kind of learning - writing, say, instead of merely taking multiple choice grammar tests - is the aim of "performance standards" the state is drawing up for all public elementary and secondary school students. …

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