There it was again. Another Buffalo School Board meeting discussing the problems of disruptive students. Last week, it was a discussion of the Charter School moratorium. It is time to rethink the whole approach to education in Buffalo high schools.
Visit most, if not all Buffalo high schools, and you'll note teachers standing outside their classroom doors during class breaks, and an occasional "bouncer" the size of a small house walking the hallways. As a volunteer teacher for the past 11 years for the Junior Achievement program, I have noted the frustration of our teachers and also the frustration of the students who want to learn, being disrupted by the third of the class who have no apparent interest in the subjects or in school in general.
A few years ago, we transferred the most disruptive "non-students" to the Alternative High School. After a time, they would transfer these students back to their original school. Within days, these same students become disruptive again. Now the School Board is discussing trying that again.
Forcing Regents classes down the throats of disinterested students will never work. What does Buffalo need? How about plumbers, electricians, TV repair and computer repair employees, automotive repair employees, machinists and more.
I am afraid that the elitists in Albany will never approve dropping Regents for marginal students. But I propose an alternative diploma and curriculum, one that does not require Regents tests. By the completion of the eighth grade, the potential college students should have been discovered, and the never-will-be-college students also will have been found out.
I propose a voluntary curriculum, approved by the schools and the parents, offering students both hope and a challenge. I suggest that the Buffalo School System set up three or four vocational school campuses around Buffalo. There would be a separate building for each vocational focus.
The program would include classes for three school years, followed by a one-year internship program with a local company that would evaluate the student at year's end, providing a passing or not-passing grade. Those who pass would receive a vocational diploma.
The curriculum would include basic math, reading, writing, team building, civics and the vocational-focused classes. The vocational class would be offered five days a week for 1 1/2 to 2 hours per day. No Regents tests would be given. I'd bet that very few frustrated students would drop out, and we would provide a real chance for a well-paid career.
The vocational program would be so thorough, so fine and so well accepted that companies throughout Western New York would flock to participate in the internship program. Isn't it about time for a significant creative change?
Philip L. Wiggle of Amherst is a conference speaker and corporate trainer.