If schools produce dramatic gains but leave students feeling scared, and scarred, are they still successful? An eighth grader poses some tough questions…
Traumatized. That’s the word my friends and I use when we talk about our school. It really scarred us. We were so used to freedom, like being able to walk to lunch in groups. All of a sudden, we were treated like children. Our lockers were taken away. Instead we had cubbies in our classrooms. We were like *cubbies? Are you joking???* We weren’t allowed to transition; our teachers transitioned. We stayed in the same room, in our chairs for 8 hours a day. We only moved when we went to lunch. We had to line up in a particular order and if you weren’t in the right order or if somebody was talking, you’d have to go back to the classroom and start again. There was one time when we missed lunch because we went through this process fifteen times.
They said that discipline led to academic success. They were incredibly strict about the uniform and we weren’t used to that. In the morning when we walked in we had to lift up our pants so that they could make sure we were wearing the socks we were allowed to wear, check to make sure we had a belt and that we had the school logo on our shirts. They’d say *if you don’t have the logo, we’re not going to let you in. We’re going to send you to the dean’s office and you’re going to get a uniform and you’re going to get out-of-school detention.* What really bothered me was that even if you had an excuse, like your uniform was in the laundry, and your mom called, they would still send you to the dean’s office.
Most of the teachers were young—they were like 21-25 years old. I was like really? Really? If you’re going to give me teachers, give me teachers who know how to teach. I get it. There are going to be points where teachers are brand new and they’re learning from us, but if you’re going to make a school to improve our grades and our discipline, why would you have teachers who’ve never taught before? There were some teachers who we respected because they had more experience. They were very much enforcers of the rules but we didn’t feel the need to talk in their classes because we respected them.
The white teachers were so into the system. They loved it. The Hispanic teachers were the only ones who understood us. We connected with them because they didn’t like the system either. There was one Hispanic teacher who was very honest with us. She’d enforce the rules and give us demerits and detentions, and tell us that if we disrespected her, she was going to disrespect us back. She was very firm about that. But she always told us how much she hated the system. All of the Hispanic teachers left; they didn’t want to work there.
I think the school thought that discipline led to good grades. But discipline led to good grades because they scared us. I was a high honors student at that school because of the horrible system. We didn’t want to be punished and we were punished for everything.
I think the school thought that discipline led to good grades. But discipline led to good grades because they scared us. I was a high honors student at that school because of the horrible system. We didn’t want to be punished and we were punished for everything. The system works in the sense that our MCAS scores improved. We got our scores back and we were number 1 in ELA and math and number 2 in science. Yes, we improved, but I feel like it’s just fear that drives it—fear of all of that discipline and getting into trouble.
At the end of the day, I think what made us the maddest was that we never had freedom of speech. Honestly, it felt like we had dictators running our school. We had no freedom. We couldn’t question authority. We weren’t allowed to say anything about the school’s system or we’d be sent to the dean’s office. We were told *this is the system. You have to deal with it.* Our friends who went to different schools that didn’t have the system we had were always asking us how we could live. *How do you not just explode in there?*
At the end of the year, we came up with a little plan to make a statement. We posted a status on Facebook telling people not to wear uniforms on Monday. We didn’t think anyone would do it. Everyone showed up out of uniform.The entire eighth grade did it. The first people to walk in got sent to the dean’s office right away. Then more and more students came in, and all of them were out of uniform. When the sweetest and nicest girl in the class walked in and she was out of uniform, the deans were like *what???* The dean’s office got so full that they had to move some of the 8th graders to a second office along with the seventh graders and a few sixth graders who did it.
We tried to explain to them that this wasn’t about us being disrespectful. This was about us expressing ourselves. *We don’t like your system. This is our last day of school and we don’t want the sixth graders and the seventh graders to suffer the way we’ve suffered.*
I was only in that system for a year, but what about students who are in it since they are little kids? They’ll end up just going along with anything anyone says. The government will make a dumb rule and they’ll be like *let’s just follow it.* These kids won’t know how to speak up.
I was only in that system for a year, but what about students who are in it since they are little kids? They’ll end up just going along with anything anyone says. The government will make a dumb rule and they’ll be like *let’s just follow it.* These kids won’t know how to speak up. The school is worried about a grade on a piece of paper or looking better than other schools. They don’t want open-minded kids who speak out.
I’m free now. It’s kind of sad to look at all of these sixth graders coming in. They don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. And their parents don’t know either. They just think it’s a middle school.
The student attended UP Academy Oliver, a zoned neighborhood *restart* school in Lawrence, MA during the 2014-2015 school year, part of the growing UP Education Network. According to the Boston Globe, UP consistently delivers dramatic gains across all levels and tested subjects in a single year. This story was recorded and edited for length.