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Learning the ropes
Several hundred anxious and curious parents of eighth-grade students filed into Mount Si High School last week, hoping to learn more about what their children can expect next year as incoming freshmen.
Mount Si expects 418 incoming freshman next year, 20 more than entered the school in 2008.
Teachers, counselors and other staff representing every relevant school department were on hand to answer questions. Volunteers from the high school’s Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) greeted parents and prospective students at the event on Tuesday, March 3rd, with information sheets and brownies.
“Information is the number one tool in our tool belt as a parent, ... so that we can remain a guardian of our child’s education,” said Beth Burrows, president of the Mount Si’s PTSA.
A couple years ago, Burrows was one of the anxious parents, concerned about overcrowding at the high school, her daughter’s safety and the school’s curriculum.
“Was it going to prepare my daughter to be successful in college?” she recalled asking at the time.
Burrows said she has been impressed by the school and the education her daughter — now a sophomore — is receiving.
Many parents had similar questions on Tuesday as Burrows had two years earlier.
With her oldest child going to Mount Si next year, Leslie Dahline said she has “the obvious concerns — that there is not enough space, that they don’t have enough funding and that the bond will not go through.”
“So far I’ve been pleased with the teachers I’ve talked with, but I’m nervous,” she said, shuffling through several handouts she had collected from language arts and math teachers.
“I just need to talk more with the counselors, make sure [students] are going to be challenged, and that there’s space for them — that they’ll count. That every child will get the attention that they need to succeed, to do well on the SATs and to go on to college,” said the Valley resident.
Snoqualmie-resident Brett Larson said he came to “understand where my daughter’s going to go.”
Like the parents around him, Larson said he wants his daughter to receive a good academic and social education in high school.
Parents often have “some concern over making sure [their children] get placed in the right class, which is a very valid concern, especially in mathematics,” said Melanie Breitbach, a math teacher at Mount Si, adding “There’re three years of math that’re required, so starting them in the right place in that sequence is very important.”
The evening allows teachers to inform parents about the school’s math program, including classes and graduation requirements, she said.
Leaning over a lunch table, Breitbach talked with parents, occasionally pointing to one of several textbooks used in her courses which were lying on the table in front of her.
When asked by parents which class their children should take, Breitbach and other math teachers responded with more questions.
“Our questions are, ‘What what type of grades are they getting? Do they like it? Are they enthusiastic about it? Are they struggling with it?’ And that way we can help them decide which is the next best course to take,” she said.
Breitbach said she understands the parents’ concern. Her own daughter started this year at Mount Si.
It is important for parents to stay active in their children’s education, said the Fall City resident.
She recommended that parents check in with their children to make sure they’re doing their work.
“Because math, you don’t learn without practicing, just like a sport,” Breitbach said.
The teachers appreciated the opportunity to meet with parents, whose feedback and involvement is critical to a successful academic program.
“We don’t get nearly enough of that,” said Kevin Knowles, a science teacher at Mount Si.
It is difficult for educators with a full teaching schedule to have one-to-one contact with parents, so he jumps at opportunities such as Mount Si’s Future Freshman night to get parents interested in the school’s science program, he said. If parents are interested, hopefully they will get their children interested, he added.
Knowles had set up an elaborate display to draw in the parents circling the commons area. A student’s model of an active volcano’s inner workings was off to one side. Various textbooks on astronomy, geology and other scientific disciplines were stacked on a desk, alongside students’ research papers on topics including Mount Pinatubo, NASA’s space shuttle program and the night sky. Amidst it all, Knowles was running a computer slideshow presentation about his astronomy class taught in conjunction with the University of Washington.
“One of the most common misperceptions is that ‘my child’s going to get lost in the system’,” said Randy Taylor, Mount Si’s principal.
The school has addressed this with increased academic tracking, including allowing parents to check grades online, he said.
With three middle schools, it’s difficult to communicate the same social and academic expectations to all incoming freshmen.
If the bond passes, Taylor wants to establish a 9th grade academy on campus to ease the transition between middle school and high school.