OPINION: Restore Live Instruction in Music, Art, P.E., and Library for K-2nd Graders

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Elissa Malespina is one of the six candidates who have filed to run for election to the 9-member South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education on November 3, 2020. Village Green is posting letters in support of local candidates campaigning for election. If you wish to submit a letter, read Village Green’s Election Guidelines here.

Elissa Malespina

[Editor’s note: this piece was submitted on September 19, 2020, before Rosh Hashanah weekend.]

Removing Music, Art, PE, and Library from the K-2 schedule and making it so that “families will have the flexibility to complete courses at their own pace” is not an appropriate response to the concerns parents expressed about screen time for our youngest learners. My role if elected to the BOE is to make sure that students are receiving a “thorough and efficient education” as required by law. BOE members are also charged with making sure students have equitable access to resources. This adjustment flies in the face of that mandate.

A thorough education, as per ESSA and NJSLA, has increased “core” classes of English, Math, Science and Social Studies to include creative subjects such as Music, Art. PE and Library. I know just how much these classes mean to our students. My son would get so excited when it was PE day, and he got to go run around with Mr. Kaesshaefer and Mr. Tate. He still talks about his experience with them as a CHS Senior and is hoping to be able to come back and help with field day this year.

As a school librarian, I know just how important it is for our students to have live library instruction, especially at the younger grade levels. These librarians help not only to teach students about the joys of reading, they are also instrumental in teaching Social and Emotional Skills (SEL), writing and phonics to students. Students — especially our youngest learners — also greatly enjoy their story times. We could say the same for music and art, these “specials” do more than just teach students about music and art, they help these children grow in their “core” subjects. To have these classes removed from their live schedules and made asynchronous is not a sound educational decision. To do so for grades K-2 but keep it for 3-5 makes me wonder how that is equitable for all of our students.

I am all in favor of reducing screen time for students and have been an outspoken critic of the developmentally inappropriate schedules that have been instituted in this district during remote learning. Even with these recent changes most of our high school students (those with a 1-8 schedule which is the majority of students) are done with live instruction at 11:55 in the morning. Compare that with our K-2 students who are done with live instruction at 12:05 and our 3-5 students are done with live instruction at 2:05 pm and our Middle School students who are not done till 2:12. It makes no sense that the students who can handle more screen time are receiving the least amount and get full live instruction of music, art, and PE in their schedules. 

It has also come to my attention that teachers and supervisors were not consulted about these changes. They found out about these changes when the parents did. This should never happen! When substantive changes to schedules or what teachers will be teaching are made, teachers must be consulted and have a say in the process. Not only does it lead to buy in, but consulting with them solves potential contractual issues like teachers not having proper prep time or breaks before they happen.  

This is also a holiday weekend and our district has told teachers they may not give homework to students, yet the changes implemented include a new structure to how classes are to be set up so teachers now have to spend their weekends redoing lesson plans and reworking lessons to meet this new schedule and expectations, since these changes start on Monday. Many of our teachers celebrate Rosh Hashanah and are now being forced to choose between celebrating the holiday with family and friends or work. For a district that claims to celebrate diversity, it should have taken the holidays into account when implementing these changes. 

This should not be an either- or. Parents should not be told that they can either have less screen time or live “specials” classes. Especially in a district that prides itself on its arts and music programs. We can and should have both! Other districts have managed to find a way to make it all work, why can’t we? I believe we can have both without scarifying some of our students favorite live classes.  This is not the model of creative thinking that SOMSD prides itself on.

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