School does not dance every Friday

Published 9:20am Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dear Editor,

I commend the author of the recent letter to the editor criticizing the use of dances at Escambia County Middle School (where I teach) for caring enough about our school to express concern. Unfortunately, the letter was misinformed and contained several faulty assumptions. In three years of teaching at ECMS, I have never encountered dances every Friday. Even when we do have modified schedules, classes are longer than they were described in the letter, and classes are still held every day with the rare exception of a field day in May or a field trip for certain groups of students on rare occasions. If the author of the letter is suggesting that we hold classes for four days and then take Fridays off from teaching and learning, she has either checked out the wrong school, or we as the faculty never got the memo that we were not to teach on Fridays. That is not the ECMS at which I work.

The problem is not that ECMS has gone from five days of teaching to four. We most certainly have not. The problem is that for a complex set of reasons, many children are arriving at our schools extremely unprepared for learning, for respecting those in authority over them, for following directions, and for caring enough about their results to work hard at a task in front of them even if it’s not always fun to them. As a result, our administrators and faculty have all trained to be educators, but if they care about results, they must now spend at least as much time acting as counselors, behavioral specialists, and parents to many of our students as they do educating them academically. Because of these realities, administrators are forced to try more and more creative ideas to reward good behavior and deter problematic behavior. Thus the dances.

I personally wish that the author of last week’s letter was correct on one issue: I personally wish we did have dances every Friday. We don’t have them nearly as often as we used to. Allow me to explain. The problem with her letter was that it clearly made the assumption that the dances were just for fun, that they took away from the students’ learning, and that they were held because we as staff do not care about learning. Nothing could be further from the truth. If research would have been done into why the dances were introduced a number of years ago, the author would have found the exact opposite to be the case.

Several years before I was hired at ECMS, our former principal, Mr. Byrd, introduced these “Friday Free Hours” as a creative means of incentive and reward. They were frequently used, though not every single week, and they worked. If they were only to help raise money for unfunded extra-curricular sports and activities, it might make sense to hold them after school. But one of the reasons for having them during school hours is so we can control both the environment and who attends!

Most students have lots of pent-up energy that builds through a school week, and many have not been trained at home to channel it properly into productive work. When you give students an opportunity, though not a guarantee, of an hour (rarely more than that) at the end of the week to dance to some music, hang out with their friends, or get some fresh air instead of going to class, it becomes a powerful behavioral incentive. Students have to receive permission from all 7 of their teachers to be able to attend the free hour. Teachers are then able to use this “Friday Free Hour” all week long as an incentive for good behavior and hard work. As a teacher, I frequently use the threat of staying back from the free hour as a way to bring student behavior back in line, and sometimes punished them by holding them back.

The bottom line from a teacher’s perspective is that when you allow the students an hour or so at the end of the week to burn off some energy and reward good behavior and hard work, the other 35-40 hours in the classroom become much more productive. Incentive-based rewards are used by parents and employers throughout our culture, and I applaud Mr. Byrd for having the courage to think outside the box and be creative when he led our school and introduced this practice. His results proved that he knew what he was doing. When Ms. Shuford came to lead ECMS, she made it clear to us that if there was a policy put in place by Byrd that was working, she wanted to keep it in place. The free hours were simply one of those policies that she kept in place.

I personally feel that the free hours are a small example of the type of creative thinking we need in educational leadership these days, and especially here in our county. And, if no other schools in Escambia County are using a Friday Free Hour, as the author stated, I personally think they should try it. It works.

The success of our schools is so vitally important to so many aspects of our community that to express negative and incorrect information about them in a public forum does much more harm than good. Rather than complain about a policy from the outside, I would challenge the people of Atmore to find out why our administrators do what they do. Ask them. I’m confident you’ll find, as I have, that they care about the same thing you care about: the success of our children. If you then still disagree with their methodology, I’m sure they would welcome a discussion as to how to achieve the same results in a different manner. If we seek to understand each other, and to bring solutions to the table, we will see our schools, and ultimately our community, continue to improve.

Conrad Weber

ECMS Faculty

  • southernman

    Bravo! I think this teacher got it right! My child is in the 11th grade at the high schoo. My family is delighted to have Mr. Byrd. He did some awesome things at the middle school, and he is changing the high school for the better. The dances the middle school had were for good behavior. The fact that all 7 teachers had to sign the slip was a great thing. My child did not get a chance to go all the time because she did not do everything she was required to do. When she did not get a chance to go, she was very upset. I told her that the dance was for doing good and doing your best. It forced her to do everything right. It worked! Kids require more motivation than what we did in schools. Let the teachers and administrators run these schools. Placing inaccurate information in a newspaper about a school does not help us better our schools. I know this method worked for my child and plenty of others.

  • concernedparent

    I applaud Mr. Weber for this response being so well put! For the past five years I worked in the school system here in Atmore. I began as a substitute teacher and then became full time at ECMS. I think that it should be made mandatory for every parent to come and sit in a classroom setting undetected for at least a day. Hopefully, then they may get a clear understanding of exactly what the teachers and staff members go through everyday dealing with their children. My mother often tells me that my children act a certain way with her when they are not around me. This is also true for the students at ECMS. The children now are just not like we were when we came through ECMS, therefore needing a different strategy to keep them interested in their schoolwork. I, for one, think that the dances are genius when it comes to giving the kids an incentive to behave and do their work. The kids are completely out of order and out of control ane if we had more parents to support our schools rather than criticize their methods, the teahcers wouldn’t have to have a dance “every friday” as stated. And as for the 20 minute classes, it’s good if you keep their attention in class longer than 20 minutes anyway. They just don’t learn the old-fashion way like we did. So, if it takes dances on Fridays, popsicles on Wednesdays, and cottoncandy on Mondays, I’m all for it. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I feel like that still applies today. And, if your method isn’t working, then maybe someone elses can. Like they say, “Don’t knock it until you try it!” This one is for all of my fellow employees and friends, keep doing what you do, because alot of people could not walk in your shoes!

  • southernman

    Concernparent, I applaud you for subbing and then teaching full time. A lot of parents appreciate what you all do. Certaintly, we can’t always agree with some methods. However, dances and any types of treats geared towards positive behavior are well worth it. I think it is bad that we have had to offer such rewards to get our kids to do what’s right. However, this is the world we now live in. Do I like it? No! Many parents do it all the time. This is the reason why so many of them have these hi-tech cell phones. Sure we can say that they need them. Sure, they may need a cell phone, but do they need a droid or these other $200 phones when the parents have the regular cheap phones? We do it because somewhere down the line they made us proud (honor roll, best behavior, scholarship, etc)I applaud you all for all you do. Continue to think of the strategies that work! We all have to think outside the box! I’m interested in seeing how this Twilight school is going to work (Mr. Byrd’s latest invention). If it will get some of these students out of the regular program that hinder some students that are trying to learn, I am all for it.

  • atmorecitizen

    WELL SAID !! I applaud you also, thank you for responding in such a tactful way.

  • atmorenative

    The school is lucky to have you, and the many other dedicated teachers. Sometimes, unfortunately, parents and other members of the community forget what a monumental task is set before you every day. The whole town would benefit if people complained a little less, helped a little more and at least attempted to see the big picture.

    If you were raised in a private school or send your kids to one now (where kicking kids out was an option), if you have never had kids, if you homeschool, if your kids are all very bright, goal-oriented and don’t need incentives. . . The list goes on. It’s fine if you fall in this list, but then you need to be extra careful that you stay in touch with the public school scene and the ENORMOUSLY COMPLEX set of children there. While your one way may have worked years ago, or on your own children, or because you could expel the kids who can’t/won’t do it your way, public school teachers don’t have that luxury. Sometimes they have to try another way; some work, some don’t. If this works for ECMS, then why on earth would anyone in this town want to mess with it?

    I truly hope that they let you keep the incentive dances.

  • the watchman

    Dear Editor,

    Parents of any child of this town must know and understand that if they do not agree with something that is happening in their child’s school, they have every right to speak out about it. As Americans, we have freedom of speech. Parents should not be intimidated by principals or teachers or anyone else, when it comes to their children. Parents, do not allow someone else to decide what is appropriate for your children. School is for learning, and NOT for partying! Not all students appreciate those dances, and some students are bored with the Friday Free Hours.
    Just because Mr. Byrd implemented Friday Freebies, does NOT mean that Mrs. Shuford should continue it. Friday Free Hour may not even be something good for our children. As they say, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”
    I have kids who attend the middle school and the high school. I was utterly appalled at the vulgar (nasty) dancing I witnessed at a recent dance that Mr. Byrd was over. Mr. Byrd did absolutely NOTHING to stop those children from behaving in such a vulgar and inappropriate way. There are also high school students performing vulgar dances on stage in front of the student body. Unacceptable!!!
    On the other hand, Mrs. Shuford is a Godly woman, and I like her. I trust her with my children. But, she does NOT need to follow the footsteps of Mr. Byrd! Has anyone inquired about the progress or non-progress of the high school?
    This twilight school is a very BAD idea! My child was in an after-school tutoring program just one month ago. She and many other students were there from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm. There was a big write-up in the paper about it. However, my daughter came home every other day complaining about the many students who roamed the halls and played in the halls after school. She finally stopped attending the tutoring sessions because she was so uncomfortable at the school, after hours. There was no sufficient supervision for students afterschool. And my child still needs help with math!! Why cater to “behavior problem students” and “teen-mothers” when you have good students who are not receiving services?? What about my child?
    Besides, what is the point of a twilight program for two and a half months just before the end of a school year? Who approved this? I am very, very, very concerned. My daughter said that afterschool teachers asked her and other students to sign an attendance form for afterschool tutoring, even though they no longer attend. Why? Is that (attendance form) supposed to be documentation? Who is monitoring the funds for these programs that Mr. Byrd is implementing?
    Someone needs to check on that high school. It took me nearly two weeks to get my son’s enrollment forms in order to get his driver’s permit. The high school office staff could not find his records. Unacceptable!!! What about citizens’ rights to records??
    Nowadays, there are people who will say and do anything in the public eye to “seem” impressive, but they “really and truly” are not impressive. It is the opposite. Something very sinister is going on in Atmore’s schools, and it is happening right under everyone’s noses.
    More parents and community leaders need to stop “playing” politics and get involved in the school system. You are playing with these children’s futures. Parents, if something “seems” wrong to you, it is wrong! Stop going along with the crowd, and stand up for your children. Speak out!
    Schools belong to the community! Our tax dollars pay the school system! Our voices are heard and our opinions matter! Stand up for your rights! Stand up for your children!
    A Concerned Parent

  • southernman

    Watchman, I understand that we all have freedom of speech and you have expressed your speech just like everyone else on this site. However, it appears that you got a lot of stuff wrong. As a parent of an 11th grader whose child has gone through the middle school and high school, I can appreciate the hard efforts of Mr. Byrd. I understand that he is just a man like everyone else. However, I don’t see any other principals who have done the things that he has done. He motitvates the students to learn. My daughter and her friends enjoy him, and they have much respect for him. My daughter is constantly telling me how focused he is on their college acceptance.
    I am very involved in everything my child does and she does a lot so we stay on our toes. I allow her to attend the dances at night. Several of them I helped to chaperone. I have seen the dances that the students dance to, and I have witnessed with my own eyes Mr. Byrd walk up to them and the students immediately disburse. I have also seen the students watch him to see if he was around and then they start back. So what did I do? I got up and walk towards them and again they disbursed. They did not start back, but they dance normally. Kids will be kids and they are not doing anything that some of us parents have not done. The only exception is that they see it everyday, and probably practice it every day at home. Your definition of vulgar dancing may be different from my definition. I have seen cheerleaders do things at the football games that shocked me, and nobody uttered a word. So I thought maybe it was just me.

    I also attended the pep rallies at the school for the football team. I saw that the cheerleaders open it up for a dance contest. I along with many other parents had a ball laughing at the students. Mr. Byrd was walking and pacing the auditorium. I didn’t witness anything vulgar. I witnessed a great pep rally that was full of school spirit.

    Finally, you talked about the after school tutoring program. My daughter was also enrolled in the program. I had questions about the program so I stopped by the school and talked to Mr. Byrd about the program. He explained that an outside company ran the program, and it was housed at the school. He contacted the director of the program while I waited. He explained the problem to the person and then put me on the phone with her. My question was answered and the problem was addressed. So, the program you were referring to is not even sponsored by the school.Some of the students you were talking about roaming, may have been middle school students that were there for other programs. I did hear Mr. Byrd getting onto some and directed them back on the outside.

    The guy is doing a great job! Give him a break! Some people are not going to be satisfied no matter what happens. Parents have a right to speak their minds. I have not always agreed with the schools, and I have not always agreed with the decsions that Mr. Byrd has made. I expressed that to him and he listened. He stuck to his opinion and I stuck to mine. However, I have learned to respect him. More than that, I respect what he does for our kids. He is willing to try and bring in programs that would never be in place if it were not for him. If you want to know what’s going on in the schools, get involved. Go to meetings, listen, and ask questions. Visit the website. I make sure that I stay involve and I make sure my daughter gets all she can. My daughter was involved in the middle school preparatory school. It was wonderful! When she arrived at the high school, it was not in place. However, this year, they have a college prep that allows students to graduate with all their requirements by 11th grade. I wanted to know how my daughter could be involved so I went up and talked to Mr. Byrd. He signed her up for dual enrollment. She is now taking college classes in high school. I wanted my daughter to take the ACT. Mr. Byrd called her to the office and allowed her to sign up. He then explained the 24 hour instruction program where her teachers taught every question on the ACT Study Guide and filmed it and put it on DVD. He handed her the dvds, we went home and watched it and I learned a lot from it myself. She just got her scores back, and her scores shot up. I also see the signs up about Operation Success. I think that is a wonderful idea to give students scholarships from the community. The school even has a dormotory room set up so the students will stay encouraged.
    To answer your question in regards to if anyone is checking on the high school, YES! I as a parent and I am checking on it. He has come in and cleaned that school up. The school is 100% better than what it was on last year. Mr. Byrd has turned that school around on top of the noble things he does with all those young men he has in the Kappa League. I haved picked my daughter up from basketball practice in evenings and saw him working with those young men. He has brought all of them to our church along with a lot of churches in Atmore. So, I think he along with Mrs. Shuford are both Godly people! He takes them all over the U.S.
    Mr. Byrd is pouring his heart into our schools, and I appreciate his efforts. He is the only principal that I see that is involved in everything that concerns our children.
    I also like Mrs. Shuford. I think she is doing the best she can. She is doing what works for the middle school. We have to keep our students motivated as I have said before. I hope that both Mrs. Shuford and Mr. Byrd stay encouraged, and continue to do whats right for our students. I applaud their efforts along with anybody that does something to help our youth of Atmore.

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