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TACOMA: Return schools to junior high system

Letter by Darrell Hamlin, Tacoma on Aug. 23, 2012 at 2:22 pm with 28 Comments »
August 24, 2012 9:18 am

After 24 years of teaching students on parole and probation for Tacoma Public Schools, I’m often asked, “What can we do to prevent a child from being involved in crime and dropping out of school?”

Incarcerated youth are disconnected from community. They are unemotionally adrift in their own diluted world of unaccountability. Their negative decision-making processes are self-justified. Disconnected youth do not hold themselves accountable to a society that they are detached from.

The student disconnection can be traced to the 1980s, when urban school districts transitioned from the junior high seventh, eighth and ninth grades to the middle school system of sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Sadly, many districts eliminated sports, shop classes and extracurricular activities. As result, disconnected 14- and 15-year-old ninth-graders are dropping out of school and involved in criminal activities. The increased social disconnection is traced to the adoption of the middle school system and elimination of extracurricular activities.

Junior highs provided enrichment extracurricular programs to help students build connections and a strong self-esteem. Teachers and coaches can instill honesty, dedication, camaraderie, morals and values. The middle school system has failed. It’s time to admit it and return to the junior high system.

The overused excuse that it’s the families’ fault is correct, but we, as a society, as a neighborhood, as individuals, can use public education to help youth be a reflection of America’s norms and values.

Leave a comment Comments → 28
  1. surething says:

    I went to 6th grade in Elementary and Middle School started my 7th grade year.

    I have always thought that 6th graders belong in Elementary.

  2. Interesting; I never gave this possibility much thought. My district was in the middle school/high school system in the 1970s. I’d agree – 6th graders should be in an elementary setting.

    I’d also suggest that the greater community chip in on the cost of extracurricular activities. Keeping kids busy after school has a positive effect on the entire community. City budgets are tight, but how much of their law enforcement costs are due to kids having too much free time on their hands?

  3. cclngthr says:

    The reason why shop classes are being dropped from schools is the emphasis on math, reading and writing, i.e. bookwork assembly line form of education.

    Shop requires knowledge in advanced math, science, reading and writing.

  4. Frankenchrist says:

    Shop class requires arithmetic not “advanced math.”

  5. alindasue says:

    I also went to a district that had a middle school during the 70s, although we moved into the district as I was entering my freshman year in high school. No one seemed to have a problem with it. My youngest girls go to middle school/high school now (both are in high school starting this year) and are doing fine. The four year high school gives them, as it gave me, time to take the required courses and more special interest elective courses like foreign languages and shop at the high school level.

    The bigger problem is that they need to bring back the extracurricular programs. Those not only give kids something to do, but as cclngthr pointed out, they also help them to use those skills that they are learning in class in an activity setting.

  6. thisyoungvet says:

    I went to a Jr High for my first year, 7th grade and then moved districts to a school where instead of Jr High it was middle school. 6th graders are children, and not ready to be in a situation that is that “uncontrolled” and I remember many kids getting mixed up in things they never would have if they had been in Elementary school still, in hindsight of course. There is a huge emotional maturity difference between 6th grade and 7th grade and I agree that middle school isn’t the way to go. What is the point anyway?

  7. hultmale says:

    I went to elementary school for sixth grade. The sixth graders were the ones who were exposing the fourth and fifth graders to smoking pot. We can’t separate kids from exposure to kids from other age groups no matter what we do. But sixth graders have a lot more in common with eighth graders than they do with first graders.

    And … if our science is so weak that we are tracing something to the 1980’s when “something that happened” and we convict that “something that happened” is the culprit, perhaps we just say it was Reagan’s fault. Or that Where’s The Beef?! lady. Perhaps spandex and fluorescent clothing?

  8. I never used any advanced math in my 7th grade shop class, which was the last year I ever took shop.

  9. cclngthr says:

    Advanced math. Wood tech requires knowledge of geometry, algebra, trig formulas. Auto shop also requires this advanced math content. To understand how a suspension system is built, and operates, the person working on it must have the understanding that certain geometric angles affect how the car handles. Adjustments to the suspension system is not always based off a manual specification; but how the car is being driven.

    Fuel delivery systems also require these advanced math skills. To understand AFR (air/fuel ratios) readings, and how the emission system operates, certain math concepts have to be applied to underatand what is going on.

  10. truthbusterguy says:


    Try making a screw on a metal lathe without some elementary geomontry or trigonometry.

    It was shop class that taught me the need for math to build and design and lead to an engineering degree and my own business. And yes I did BUILD IT!!! not boy obama

    The difference was I attended a non union private school. I was lucky and not sentenced to the government poorly run and union owned public schools.

  11. I agree with Mr. Hamlin. I think Tacoma should move back to the Junior High model. It is a difficult transition form 5th to 6th grade. You can still offer classes in 9th grade that will apply to High School. It is the classes being taken that count, not the building they are being taken in.

  12. sandblower says:

    There he is! Old truthy making ridiculous statements once again. My friend, not everyone can afford private schools and that is not an excuse for whatever public schools’ performance is. What your comments do show is your intentional ignorance of reality and fairness.

  13. truthbusterguy says:


    Private schools, money well spent on me.

    As the county sinks lower in IQ and government schools graduate students that can’t read and perform simple math liberal union lovers like you support the status quo.

    I suggest you go out and mentor/tutor some kids from union schools like I do. Look at there test papers with 50% wrong answers and they still pass. Look at their book reports with misspelled words and not a single complete sentence and they get a “B”!!!!

    I am shocked when these kids are proud of their work that doesn’t add up, doesn’t make any sense and hard to read.

    This is why we need vouchers in WA state so parents can have the FREEDOM to send their kids to non union schools where they will learn something other than sitting in the classroom and watching CNN.

    Our kids are slaves to the government schools and we are destroying generations of children by forcing them to attend union schools.

  14. Shattah206 says:

    I am frankly less concerned about 6th vs 7th graders in Middle School/Jr. High than I am 9th vs 10th graders in “Hogh School.” Certainly I am aware that 9th grade is High School in terms of the academic record. However, having 14-year olds in the same school with 18-year olds is simply not advisable. My children attended a 4-year high school, and when my oldest son played varsity basketball as a freshman, I was thrilled . . . until I realized he was hanging out with 18 year old adults. Obviously, that led to some conversations and adjusted parenting. Later, when he was a senior, I found out one of the numerous boys routinely at my house was a freshamn. I called the mom and explained that the rules for our 18-year old son were drastically different than they had been when he was 14 and that she needed to know we did not provide the same level of parental oversight we had when he was younger. This was an eye-opener to her like it had been to me. (Yes the whole crew “hated” me for a while. Oh well.)

  15. Fibonacci says:

    AS usual you are clueless. My kids have attended both public and private schools and the difference is that public schools have to teach EVERYONE while private get to take only the ones they want to take. An dhow is it that you are such an expert on public schools? Spend much time in them?

  16. I’m really not sure what the best model is. I attended a K-8 elementary with a 9-12 high school. My 8th grade year I moved to a district with 7-8 middle school and a 9-12 high school. The kids at the middle school were doing things we would never have dreamed of doing at my old K-8 school. Being in high school with 18 year olds never seemed to be a problem for anyone where I grew up, but that was in two small towns with two small high schools.

    I think a lot of it has to do with the size of the schools and what is available to kids after school. I think our middle schools are too large. There is not enough connection to others and it is easy to slip through the cracks when the student body is so large.

  17. Some kids are fine with 6-8 then 9-12 and others flounder. Absolutley we need classes that engage kids and build self confidence to offset the classes that they do not enjoy as much. I did k-6 and 7-8 in the 70’s went down hill in 9th grade but pelled it off by 12th.

    I just wish the digruntled would quit complaining about our public schools. It is what you make it and put into it.

  18. frankiethomas says:

    Although I do not disagree that the junior high model may be preferable to middles schools, there is simply no elimination of sports of extracurricular activities happening! My kids did/do band, sports, clubs, yes EVEN WOOD SHOP. I have a child in middle school in Tacoma. They have a TON of extra curricular activities. They had sports and now they have revamped them so there are even more. Besides all the sports, there is drama, cooking club, drum line, Homework Club, cheerleading, I can’t even THINK of all the stuff they have. My son graduated out of TPS a few years ago – he was involved in an after school activity every single day of middle school an high school, whether it was a sport or club. It is simply a MYTH that these programs have been eliminated.

  19. “I just wish the digruntled would quit complaining about our public schools. It is what you make it and put into it.” says Peep.

    Makes perfect sense to me.

  20. buddyandelliott says:

    Don’t forget that some kids who were born in late August attend 6th grade at 11 years old. That is mixing with kids in 8th grade that may be up to 15 depending on birthdate and possible kindergarten hold backs.

  21. While I agree with and support cc’s cross-disciplinary approach to “applied” classes like shop, I don’t quite agree with the use of “advanced math” to describe the use of algebraic/geometric formulae to figure out dimensions.

    For me, advanced math requires the use of proofs – so the student is dealing with math on a theoretical level.

    And….truthbuster – that would be an extremely advanced junior high shop class that would require the students to figure out the dimensions in order to make a screw that they would machine on a metal lathe.

  22. frankiethomas, which school is it you are speaking about? Do you know if the other middle schools offer the same programs?

  23. SwordofPerseus says:

    Trutheludesmeguy – Jr. high using helical geometry calculations to figure the dimensions for a screw or nut? Nice try to B.S. us but anyone who has ever run and engine lathe knows that for screw making, one looks up the ASME standard size for machine screws in a handbook such as the Machinists Handbook and determines the diameter and thread pitch from a table of standard sizes. Then using the gear change levers on the lathe one selects the setting for the thread pitch required and engages a gear train driven lead screw which moves the tool carriage at a predetermined speed. This allows you to cut the threads on the work-stock held steady in a (usually a three of four jaw) chuck or collet assembly. No math required, other than the ability to measure the work to determine the measured size and how much stock must be removed to attain the desired finish diameter and thread pitch. MMMMMMMkay. True that you need math to build and design, however “higher mathematics” not necessary to operate an engine lathe to make standard or custom parts.

    Truth’ seems like you had an open and seeking mind at one time, what happened to you?

  24. mahinaokeiki says:

    It is less expensive to offer simple “all kids must attend schools that have…”

    It is more expensive to offer personalized education such as “some kids do better in this environment while others might be successful in another environment.”

    The point is that we have to get away from thinking that it is one or the other. There are many, many ways to best teach a child, and we will have to embrace them and fund them. Choice is possible in public schools if we intentionally make it possible.

  25. I’ve always thought one of the biggest problems with American education is the silly idea that every kid is going to run off to college. All twelve years of public school are designed to that end. The fact is only a minority go on to college, and an even greater minority actually finish with a degree.

    We should adopt the European style where all kids have a basic education up to a certain level, at which time it becomes apparent which ones will go on to college and the professions, and which ones will go on to the trades.

    At that point “high school” becomes either “college prep” or a “technical trade school”. Those in the trades, at graduation, have then finished four years of training in a particular trade and are fully employable with their diploma. Those going on to the professions have been prepped for college and are better able to finish.

    However we don’t focus on the real issues, we just build new multi-million dollar schools for a hundred kids, and bend over for the teachers unions. And we wonder why the rest of the world passes by our kids.

  26. In Canada all student receive 2 years of schooling post high school for free – 1 year of vocational training and 1 year of liberal arts (read: critical thinking training). If they complete that they receive reduced costs to pursue additional higher education.

    Sounds like a good system to me – those who aren’t going to go on to college get vocational training and those going on …..get vocational training. And both get basic liberal arts education.

  27. Sounds like a good plan to me BeerBoy…..at any rate, better than what we have here, now.

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