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Money alone won’t fix schools - first we need children who aren’t 'revved up’

Anne Arundel County school officials visit the KIPP Ujima Village Academy, a charter-like school in Baltimore where fifth- and sixth-graders earned the city's highest math scores in state assessment tests.
Anne Arundel County school officials visit the KIPP Ujima Village Academy, a charter-like school in Baltimore where fifth- and sixth-graders earned the city's highest math scores in state assessment tests. (Sun photo by Chiaki Kawajiri)

How coincidental — or purposeful — that recent abysmal test scores for Baltimore school children are published just months before the Kirwan Commission proposal for greater funding will be before the legislature (“Md. governor must engage with education commission if he hopes to influence it,” Oct. 31).

Some may assume that, of course, increased funding can be the solution and that improved buildings, newer materials and better trained teachers will over the years translate into more student success. This makes logical and humanitarian sense and may have some merit. But as a therapist who has worked with children in and out of public and private schools and now in my own practice, I do not think this is a full answer.

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The first five years of a child’s life are prime time for learning in all areas. At a minimum, a child should learn from the inside about living in her or his own body, like the difference between reacting impulsively and recklessly to stimulation in the environment versus adhering to safe boundaries and structure set by caring adults. Unless a child has the ability to self-contain and calm, significant learning cannot take place. Anxiety is the major mental health issue with children these days.

When children come to school revved up by environmental and dietary toxins, neighborhood violence, abuse or neglect at home, teachers are presented with a deficit to start, no matter how shiny the materials or innovative the curriculum. Regardless of their compassion or cultural sensitivity, teachers are extremely challenged to get into any academic content when a child’s physical and emotional foundation is so disorganized. I have seen, as I’m sure have others, students drag along through the system at minimal functioning, so that even when awarded with a degree, they present themselves at a community college yet need two years of remedial work to even begin a course of study.

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No, we cannot remake every home or community situation so that children first arrive at school fully prepared. And yes, Head Start and some other preschool programs aim to do this. Yet I would love to see an actual first, second and third grade school curriculum built around training in body awareness, impulse control and self-soothing techniques.

For children older than this now, let’s supplant some regular coursework in middle and high school with this type of program. True, yoga is now taught in some schools as an adjunct. But I would like to see this type of true physical-emotional education as central. It literally is back-to-basics and rather than being a diversion from true study could become the foundation from which serious and purposeful learning can then take place. Rather than testing children on what they don’t know, we could observe their bodies and sense of self develop in a way that is fully grounded.

Joyce Wolpert, Baltimore

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