Back to fifth grade

Back to School

For parents and students, it’s a few weeks into the new school year. My son started fifth grade at a public elementary school in Honolulu, and the start of this year has been harder than in previous years.

The start of fifth grade was harder for me too. My school had combined fifth and sixth grade classes, so we had the same teacher, Ms. Foster, for two years. We had the chance to have a mentor in fifth grade and be a mentor in sixth grade. Here’s what I remember most: we still had snack time (milk and cookies or brownies). We had a classroom economy, with a banker and checking accounts. We had daily one-page writing assignments (I even wrote a few stories with cliffhanger endings that were resolved on Fridays).

Today, I think we expect so much more from students (and we took away snack time). The back-to-school experience is all about more.

More school supplies. Shopping for school supplies is like a treasure hunt. This year, the list was 33 items long – among them, 24 sharpened #2 pencils, hand soap, tissues, wet wipes, various markers, and a white board. I don’t mind paying for school supplies (after all, everyone in Hawaii helps to pay for public education), but I wish there was an easier way to do it.

One solution is to bundle all the school supplies and charge a flat fee. Buying in bulk could save parents time and money. It could be convenient for donors, who could contribute a backpack or buy a school supply kit. It could also be easier for donor organizations, which would not have to store and distribute an assortment of school supplies.

More school forms. School paperwork has multiplied over the years. We fill out emergency cards, MealTracker (school lunch) deposits, a responsible technology agreement, a media release, a free/reduced lunch form, a PG movie viewing release form, a volunteer form, and field trip consent forms – not to mention the forms to sign students up for optional extracurricular activities.

I understand why the Department of Education (DOE) needs all of these forms, permissions, and disclosures. Really. But it’s overwhelming for parents to fill out these forms; and it’s time-consuming for administrators to create, copy, distribute, collect, and file these forms. Every year.

One solution is to create online student accounts, so that parents can fill out forms online. Parents could input their information once, and then update them every year. Data could be transferred to the school database, with fewer data entry errors. At the beginning of the school year, schools could even open up their computer rooms in the evening or on a weekend, so that parents without computers could fill out the forms, assisted by administrators.

More homework. I know that teachers give different amounts of homework, but my son’s workload has increased this year. His daily homework consists of reading for at least 30 minutes, two pages of math, and a page in the “Reading Wonders” book. Side note: when I was in school, I called reading and writing simply “English”; today, my son calls it “L.A.” (language arts). Every week, he has a vocabulary packet, writes a reading log, and must complete two iXL online math practice tests.

I believe in homework. I believe that repeated practice helps students learn. It also shows parents what children are learning in school. My son is not as happy – the amount of homework sometimes makes him feel stressed and anxious. At least I can help him learn to cope with stress and anxiety.

What do you remember most from fifth grade? If you have school-age children, how would you describe your back-to-school experience?

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