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A Letter Regarding Middle School Sports and Activities

To the Students, Parents, and Constituents of Region One,

On January 6, the Region One Board was to consider including the Middle School Sports and Activities Program in the proposed budget for 2020-2021. Unfortunately for the students in Region One, the vote of the Region One Board was 4 against and 2 for, in spite of the fact that four of the six K-8 schools had voted for the program.

The accusation has been made from some that the idea for this program has moved too quickly and has not been well thought through. This is untrue. The ABC Committee first discussed the idea in 2018 and considered implementation in the 2019-2020 school year, but agreed that more time was needed for Anne MacNeil, the Athletic Director, and for the school boards to plan and that we would continue the discussion for possible implementation in 2020-2021.

In 2019, there were eight ABC Committee meetings and seven of these meetings addressed the implementation of a regional sports program. Locally formed committees were appointed by each Board of Education, specifically to discuss the structure of the program and these groups met several times, establishing the number of meetings they felt necessary to consider the merits of the program. The idea of a regional sports program is not new; there have been considerations about this program for more than ten years, particularly by coaches. The recent proposal was not only to regionalize the current sports being offered, but to add three more sports, to give students more choices. These included cross-country, swimming, and track and field.

Anne MacNeil, the Athletic Director, surveyed students at the Middle School, spoke with students to explain the program, and met with town groups to develop a feasible and affordable plan. The makeup of the town committees was recommended to consist of one board member from the K-8 school, a parent of a Middle School student, and a Recreation Center Director. Nevertheless, it was each local board that developed the committee to discuss the program’s feasibility and structure. Meetings were held through the summer. Most towns attended on a regular basis. Anne MacNeil attended Board meetings at each of the local schools, sometimes more than once, always at the request of the boards, and explained the plan that the town committees and ABC had formulated.

There were a number of questions raised. These were around time on the bus, numbers of students who would participate, and whether we should add non-athletic activities. Anne and I met on several occasions to discuss these issues and were able to address all of them. Bus times were shortened, students would be riding buses only with other Middle School students, and Art Garage and Robotics were added as choices for students.

After a year of ABC meetings, committee meetings, as well as discussion at the tables of the local boards, four of the six K-8 school boards voted to go forward with the Middle School Athletics/Activities Program. Reasons included: 1) students need to have more opportunities for recreation in our part of the state, 2) students should be offered sports that are individual, as well as team competitions, 3) decreasing enrollment has prevented several schools from being able to field a team of their own, 4) our students are not getting chances to play competitively and are not prepared for these sports in high school, and 5) it is positive for Middle School students to have more social experiences and get to know other students from the six schools, which makes the transition easier for them to adjust to the larger student body at the high school.

In addition to the thorough planning that has occurred, a Region Wide Task Force was started in 2018, after several of our former students lost their lives, which generated concern that our area of the state was not providing enough healthy options for student activities. The Task Force conducted a survey of students at both the Middle School and High School. Frequent comments on the survey cited that there were not enough extra-curricular activities for teen students.

The argument sometimes heard is that there are sports for students to participate in and to be competitive. These are “pay to play” traveling sports that are not a part of the school program. These are great for those who can afford to play. But our Free and Reduced Lunch rate at the High School is nearly 45% and higher in some of our K-8 schools.

In addition to the local survey, we also administered the Developmental Assets Survey, a nationwide research based survey in the spring of 2019. The survey is given to students in grades 8, 10, and 12. The survey focuses on external assets that are positive experiences and supports a young person receives from formal and informal connections to adults and peers in the community.

Following are the results to these survey questions on the 2019 Developmental Assets Survey:

Focus Area

Percentage of Grade 8 students who agreed

Support

Caring neighborhood: Young person experiences caring neighbors.

 

54%

Support

Caring school climate: School provides a caring, encouraging environment.

 

45%

Support

Parent involvement in schooling: Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young person succeed in school.

 

40%

Boundaries and Expectations

Adult role models: Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.

 

37%

Empowerment

Community values youth: Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.

 

33%

Empowerment

Youth as resources: Young people are given useful roles in the community.

 

40%

Constructive Use of Time

Creative activities: Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts.

 

23%

Positive Identity

Personal power: Young person feels he or she has control over "things that happen to me."

 

42%

Positive Identity

Self-esteem: Young person reports having a high self-esteem.

 

41%

Positive Identity

Sense of purpose: Young person reports that "my life has a purpose."

 

56%

Alone at Home

Spends two hours or more alone per school day

 

40%

Drinking Parties

Reports attending one or more parties in the last year “where other kids your age were drinking”

 

23%

Alcohol

Has used alcohol three or more times in the last 30 days or got drunk once or more in the last two weeks

 

14%

Depression/Suicide

Is frequently depressed and/or has attempted suicide

 

20%

These numbers are far from what we want them to be. I believe that we can do better than this. As educators, parents, and community members, we need to provide places and ways for students to grow. Too many youth lack connection to the kinds of teams, clubs, organizations, and programs that provide safe and active places to develop. All of us need to look for opportunities to expand choices for young people to gather safely. Parents and other caring adults must encourage and reward our students’ involvement.

We tout ourselves as a Regional School that is progressive and consistently seeking ways to expand or create quality programs for our students. In many ways, we do this. The High School has created new courses in many areas, added more field trips- including overseas programs, an At-Risk Program, and a Career Program, just to name a few. All of these are to be applauded. Isn’t it time that we also look for what we can do for our Middle School students? This is a crucial time in the lives of students of this age, as they are learning more about who they are and where their interests lie.

All of our students deserve this kind of attention.

Dr. Pam Vogel, Superintendent