classroom, school world, education world

10 Stories That Shook the School World in 2009

December 16, 2009 01:30 PM
by Mark E. Moran
Every year has its share of stories that profoundly affect us. Stories about our schools and our children particularly touch our emotions. With a new administration in Washington, a global economic recession and the increasing pervasiveness of technology, 2009 was bound to have plenty of stories that would impact the school world. Here are 10 that findingDulcinea believes most profoundly did so.

1. Obama’s Back-To-School Address Causes Controversy

More than any other story, this story had people talking. Many were incredulous that others would question the appropriateness of a sitting president addressing the nation’s school students. But others charged that teaching materials prepared by the Department of Education urged support for the President’s agenda. Others also recalled objections to a similar address by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. In the end, the teaching materials were revamped, the president merely urged kids to work hard and the controversy blew over. 

2. “Sexting” Produces Tragic Consequences

For teachers that recall a time when a young girl would be embarrassed to learn her bra strap was showing in school, “sexting” has come as a shock. The practice, in which young girls send nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves to their male peers, has resulted in serious, and even tragic, consequences. In Pennsylvania, officials threatened criminal charges against teen senders and recipients of “sexts.” In at least two cases, girls whose pictures were widely disseminated, subjecting them to scorn, committed suicide.

3. Rihanna Brings Dating Violence Into the Conversation

The music world shook in February when singer Rihanna missed her appearance at the Grammy Awards because she had been brutally assaulted on her way there by her singer boyfriend Chris Brown. Teens that listened to the music of both these stars were stunned and confused by the headlines. Fortunately, the incident brought increased focus on the issue of dating violence among teens.

4. Heroin Use Comes out of the Back Alley

Heroin is no longer a drug that’s injected into veins in dark alleys. It is now cheaper, stronger and more accessible than ever before, and available in a powder that's inhaled by school students across the country. Many young heroin users become hooked on opiates by stealing Oxycontin from their parents’ medicine cabinets. When that runs out, they graduate to heroin. Tom Suozzi, former Nassau (New York) county executive emphatically drove the point home in a press release in July. In the first half of 2009, his relatively affluent county saw heroin overdoses kill more people than “drunk driving-related and homicide deaths combined.”

5. Triumph Over Tragedy

In May, in Charlestown, Mass., an eighth grader was shot dead while waiting for his morning bus. He was a member of the school choir, which was about to appear in a statewide singing contest. Once a decision was made that the choir would participate in the contest, Olivia Thomson, the students’ music teacher, reassured the children that “It's OK to be sad, but it's also OK to have fun.” True to the school’s motto of "Persist and Prevail," the students overcame their grief and raised their voices in song, awing judges and the audience with their powerful rendition of “What a Wonderful World.” In the end, the choir earned the highest total score.

6. The SKILLs Act Is Reintroduced, as Library Budgets Get Cut

This year saw school districts across the country cut library staff and materials budgets, based in part on the notion that students can find the information they need on the Internet.

But in order to use the Internet as a library, students need 21st-century research skills: the ability to pick out reliable sources from an overwhelming heap of misinformation, to find relevant material amid an infinite array of options and to navigate the shifting ethics of intellectual property rights. The only way for students to learn them is for someone to guide and teach them.

Yet nearly half the country’s public schools lack trained library media specialists. Offering a glimmer of hope, the SKILLs (Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries) Act was reintroduced to the U.S. House of Representatives as a stand-alone bill. The bill seeks to require at least one “state-certified school library media specialist in each public school” by the 2010-2011 school year.

7. Twilight Enters the Curriculum

"The Twilight Saga,” a series of books about vampires and teen love, has been a multi-year craze among teenagers, particularly girls. While some schools have banned the books, many teachers are embracing them, viewing them as “opening the door” to students that otherwise wouldn’t read. Some teachers have created entire lesson plans around the books.

8. Bullies Find a New Playground to Troll

For decades, parents and teachers have shared familiar advice with students on dealing with the playground bully. But until recently, few adults have had to react to cyberbullying, in which anonymous Internet users terrorize students online. Missouri, home state of the victim in the “MySpace Mom” case, has moved aggressively to enact new laws against cyberbullying. In October, the state took matters to a new level by arresting a ninth-grade student for posting unflattering and threatening comments online about a classmate.

9. Schools Consider Less, Then More, Class Time

In January, many schools considered a shortened school week in order to save on transportation, electricity and other costs. Faced with budget cuts, schools looked at transitioning to a four-day school week to accommodate tough financial times. Many expressed mixed opinions on whether a shortened school week would be helpful or harmful.

Then in September, President Obama announced that he would like to extend the school year and cut summer vacations short. In an effort to give American students a competitive advantage, the president suggested that schools should add time to the regular class day, shorten summer vacations and even stay open late and let students in on weekends. Parents and others debated the merits of more class time, and also cited cost concerns.

10. Swine Flu Highlights School Nurse Shortage

As a new wave of swine flu began to hit several regions of the country in September, many schools found that without a school nurse, they were ill-prepared to deal with an outbreak. A 2008 National Association of School Nurses survey found that only 45 percent of America’s public schools have full-time nurses, 30 percent have part-time nurses and one-quarter don’t have any nurses. Some parents were concerned about the lack of nurses in their children’s schools, especially during the flu season. But other parents weren’t worried about the threat of the H1N1 virus, and didn’t plan to vaccinate their children against it.

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