By BETSY BLACK
---- — As a parent in the Millersburg Elementary School (MES) district, I feel overwhelmed and confused about the proposed changes in the Fairfield Community School Corporation. The proposal is for a districtwide change to STEAM Schools — an accronym for integrating science, technology, engineering, arts, and math across disciplines. The exception is Millersburg Elementary, which will be a Practical Arts Academy. I left the Monday night’s community meeting filled with anxiety about how these changes will shape the school experience of my MES children.
We moved to Fairfield intentionally for a rural setting and small community feel. We have been more than pleased with our experience at Millersburg over the past six years and I’m not giving up on the idea that we can maintain what we have.
I want to reach out to other parents of MES students, knowing that you too are upset, confused and stressed about the proposed changes. I know it is difficult, but I challenge you to step away from your emotional reaction and think about what really will change at MES?
First and foremost know this: WE. LOVE. MES.
My daughter is in the third grade this year. She will be in fifth grade when the proposed changes would go into effect. We will keep her at MES. My youngest son will start kindergarten in 2015, so this change will affect his whole school experience. And I will send him to MES.
Here is our list of reasons we will keep our children at MES:
• Millersburg will continue to have great teachers. Many staff already integrate the 4C’s (creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration) and discovery model in the classroom.
• Teachers will have more training in how to engage students instead of teaching to a test.
• The practical emphasis gets more community involvement into the classroom. Community is the one of the things we love about MES. Our students will get an understanding of how classroom materials relate to real life.
• Students will still use the computer lab, use iPads, Power Point presentations and type. They aren’t giving up technology and moving to wood blocks and chalkboards. It isn’t a step back; it’s just not a leap to catch up with the newest trends.
• Grades K-3 will be the same at all elementary schools. The changes come at grades four through six. We would rather keep our kids in their familiar building with classroom instruction changes rather than change everything for them. I don’t think a different focus in grades four to six really will make much difference when they merge with other students in junior high.
Then there is the “Amish factor” that no one wants to address publicly. Culturally, my “English” children are a minority at MES at a 60-40 percent ratio. We love that our children interact with the kids that live in our neighborhood. The relationships we developed with our Amish neighbors through school connections are wonderful.
I acknowledge that the ratio of Amish children could significantly increase as the Practical Arts model is more in line with their lifestyle and goals. I am glad our school system acknowledges that the needs of its students are not all the same. If Millersburg parents react to these changes by transferring their children to STEAM schools (Benton and New Paris), this leaves more openings for Amish children to transfer in. I am concerned this could be divisive and create within the district an “Amish” school.
I encourage you to disengage with fear, and set your emotions aside. Consider what you like about MES. How does the proposal change that? Are you willing to stay at Millersburg? I have faith that the staff will rise to the changes and continue to challenge our children creatively. I hope that the student body will continue to be a place where our children can learn to relate with their peers and attain education to adequately prepare them for the future.
Betsy Black is the mother of two children and resides in Millersburg.