No More Afternoon Hoops at Schools
First basketball, then what? While I can well understand Dr. Johnson's goal of focusing on education, and can see where a basketball game seems like a poor use of educational time, I am very concerned about the reference to clubs. You see, every school in the district isn't a secondary school, where students provide their own transportation and don't need a safety patrol to walk home. For the last several years, I have taught music and directed co-curricular performing groups (choir, band and guitar classes) at a Memphis elementary school. These groups are funded via grant money, with no expense to the district, and are taught on top of a full-time teaching load. After school didn't work well for us, because of transportation issues and after school tutoring. What did was having the students come to me in the afternoon homeroom period, a time where teachers assist student with homework, finish up class activities, and do silent reading and accelerated reader. This worked wonderfully. Participation increased, and being in choir or band became a motivator for good behavior and improved effort and participation in class, because my students knew that if they were not putting in the effort, and they needed the extra help, I would side with the classroom teacher. Good behavior was expected, and many students who did poorly in other settings worked very hard for me and we were able to use this to carry over into the classroom. Other groups at the school, including two clubs designed to teach social skills, improve behavior, provide role modeling, and involve students in hands on learning activities in the community also use that same time block, and have also had very positive results, with younger students avidly looking forward to being old enough to join.
I feel that our students benefit dramatically from the club meetings, choir practices, and field trips which go with them. Yet, if the superintendent follows through to the logical conclusion, this is gone. And for our poorest students, who often don't have access to such learning opportunities outside of school, there is no second chance.
It's time to decide, once and for all, what our children are attending school for: Learning, or test scores.
Music Specialist, Lester Elementary, Memphis
Ridgeway High School basketball coach Wes Henning is mourning the death of the afternoon game.
Ticket sales for a single daytime game at Ridgeway paid for the freshman basketball team's away-game transportation, and few events were better for school spirit, Henning said.
Memphis schools Supt. Carol Johnson this year eliminated the afternoon games -- a more than decade-long tradition -- as part of a broader plan to scale back school-day extracurricular activities to gain learning time.
"As we look at our test scores we have to make sure we're using the precious time we have to focus on learning," Johnson said.
It also means fewer pep rallies and student club meetings during school hours.
"I don't disagree that this puts a significant challenge on our schools to try to offer quality extracurricular activities and make sure that all students can participate," Johnson said.
"But the reality is we do have to meet state standards. We have to get our students to pass the TCAP (achievement test). We have to get our students to pass the Gateway (tests necessary for graduation)."
The move comes as city schools athletics officials launch a drive for corporate donations to help keep sports programs in the black. Earlier this week First Tennessee Bank pledged $90,000 over three years.
"It's tough to get rid of those afternoon games just as we're trying to raise money for sports," athletic director Wayne Weedon said. "But in life you have to make choices. And until we become more stable academically, it's a good choice to do away with these games."
Most of the 58 Memphis schools that have basketball programs held 1 p.m. games, Weedon said. Most schools, Ridgeway included, had one each season; others had two. Students paid $2 to $4 for tickets.
Deputy Supt. Bernadeia Johnson also said the games raised questions of equal access and created awkward staffing problems.
"Who would get to go to these games? And what about the ones who stayed behind? What kind of learning would they get?" Bernadeia Johnson said.
With only a handful of students left in classes during these game days, "it created some staffing problems and ... it was a distraction that sometimes took half a school day for the visiting schools who had to load into buses and drive to another school for one of these games," she said.
Shelby County schools stopped having games during school hours several years ago, county schools spokesman and athletic director Mike Tebbe said. Their rules are strict, Tebbe said, to the point that the district turns down offers to play games during school hours.
The lone exception, Tebbe said, is the state basketball tournament that they can't control.
Some clubs meet briefly on a monthly basis, but many club-related activities are held after school.
"With more and more emphasis on accountability and test scores, I think all of our systems are striving to protect the instructional day as much as possible," Tebbe said.
At Ridgeway, one afternoon game per season would bring in more than $1,200, enough to pay for transportation.
"These afternoon games did something to excite the school, excite the students, and I'm disappointed we can't have them anymore," Henning said.
-- Ruma Banerji Kumar: 529-2596
Ruma Banerji Kumar
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES