An eighth-grade jazz combo's brief appearance at the Fort Wayne Community Schools board meeting Monday helped Superintendent Wendy Robinson make a point.
Those nine Memorial Park Middle School students exemplify 80% to 90% of the district's students in that they need only the baseline supports – such as a teacher setting the tone in the morning – to be ready for the day's lessons, Robinson said.
But forces outside the classroom can change a student's readiness to learn, she said. Robinson referenced recent shootings in Fort Wayne. Those injured by gunfire include two boys, ages 8 and 13.
“What do you think is happening in our schools with that happening?” she said.
FWCS is equipping teachers with strategies so they can maintain a classroom environment that's conducive to learning despite events occurring outside school walls, district administrators said during a presentation after the board approved iPad and laptop purchases.
D. Faye Williams-Robbins, the district's chief of student, family and community engagement, led the presentation.
She was blunt about today's students.
Educators can no longer expect that children come to school knowing how to behave in a classroom setting, Williams-Robbins said. Students must be taught the expectations and rules, be shown what they're supposed to do and be held accountable, she added.
“Understand today's kid is not the kid of 15, even 10 years ago. And the things that happen in society today and that kids are witnessing is not what it used to be,” Williams-Robbins said. “So we need to be, as adults, more equipped in order to handle those situations.”
She shared a success story that happened early this academic year. A teacher who had a student misbehave in class realized the behavior likely stemmed from an event outside school – a hunch he confirmed after talking with the student after class.
The teacher credited his response to the new strategies.
That teacher built a relationship with the student that is going to last the school year, Williams-Robbins said, and the student can now talk with that trusted adult about issues instead of acting out.
“We are starting to see things like that happening across the district,” Williams-Robbins said.
Such situations are not unique to FWCS; schools nationwide are dealing with behavioral issues, Robinson said.
The work isn't easy, she added.
“It takes time to figure out what that trigger was,” Robinson said, noting students are affected by events at home and in the community. “This is such a complex issue.”