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Archive for March, 2011

 

There are many milestones in a person’s life.  One of these milestone’s experienced in Canadian youth in the transition from elementary school to Grade 9.  The move between school systems involves a great deal of change.  For most, these changes include moving to a school with more floors, having four different teachers and classrooms, being assigned a locker and having a cafeteria where you can buy french fries for lunch.  For this writer, a song that I listened to many times prior to entering grade nine was “Grade Nine” by the Barenaked Ladies, a popular Canadian band from Toronto.

“Grade Nine” was written for the Gordon album which was released in 1992. The song is sung by the entire band and seems to detail their experience with grade nine.  It appears that the Barenaked Ladies experience was of not knowing how to fit in (“I’m trying my best not to look like a minor niner”), trying out for sports teams (“went out for the football team”), and having a good time (“went to the high school dance”).   The lyrics are as followed:

I found my locker and I found my classes

Lost my lunch and I broke my glasses,

That guy is huge! That girl is wailin’!

First day of school and I’m already failing.

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

I’ve got a blue-and-red Adidas bag and a humongous binder,

I’m trying my best not to look like a minor niner.

I went out for the football team to prove that I’m a man;

I guess I shouldn’t tell them that I like Duran Duran.

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

Well, half my friends are crazy and the others are depressed

and none of them can help me study for my math test.

I got into the classroom and my knowledge was gone;

I guess I should’ve studied instead of watching Wrath Of Khan.

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

They called me chicken legs, they called me four-eyes

they called me fatso, they called me buckwheat,

they called me Eddie

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

I’ve got a red leather tie and pair of rugger pants,

I put them on and I went to the high school dance.

Dad said I had to be home by eleven –

aw, man, I’m gonna miss Stairway to Heaven.

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine

 

The song touches on many stereotyped ideas of a person’s experience in grade nine.  Almost everyone can relate to having trouble finding the location of your class, being called names (I was called Chicken legs on numerous occasions), and certainty feeling a bit awkward.  Ask anyone how they felt on their first day of high school and you will likely will have many responses that relate to anxiety, pressures and generally scared feelings.  Pull out a high school yearbook and tell someone that you are going to look at their grade nine photo and could lose your arm or an eye.  Themes in “Grade Nine” that will be discussed in this paper are:  the education system and grade nine, bullying and school as community.

“This is me in grade nine baby”

 

My experience as a grade nine student was typical; I felt a mixed bag of emotions involving being happy to move to another school, anxiety over bus schedules and room locations, and nervous about making new friends.  In the typical city/suburban  environment, not every student attends the same elementary and secondary schools (my friends were split into three schools) and therefore you may not know anyone. As a grade nine student you are not only the new kids in school, but you also have a completely new forum to learn and interact.

The Ontario education system is very much like other school system’s in North America.  The current system that is common is elementary school from kindergarten to grade eight, followed by four years of high school.  Grades seven and eight tend to be bridge years with many students attending middle or junior high schools.  However the big jump in a students education is to grade nine.  As stated previously there are many changes in terms of the educational institution and environment.  Another change is the curriculum.  Previously students were taught various subjects by (most likely) one teacher in one classroom.  In high school students could have up to four teachers, four different classrooms with four different groups of students.  For the majority, each class period only dealt with one subject.  This type of environment can make it very difficult to make new friends and to form a sense of community.  This type of system can be a shock to a minor niner, who is used to a smaller school and classroom.  It is too easy to find yourself alone.

“First day of school and I’m already failing”

The secondary school system in Ontario has developed and changed over the last sixty years.  What allowed one to earn an Ontario Secondary School Diploma and what the purpose of earning one is different than what it was fifty years ago.  Gidney (2002) explains in From Hope to Harris: the reshaping of Ontario’s schools that secondary school has developed from a place where students needed to pass a provincial examination to attend to a system where almost no one (including today’s professors) could pass the same test (p. 282).  The Ontario government currently wants more Ontario students to graduate from high school, which is both admirable, yet challenging.  Gidney (2002) writes “the challenge has been to find the means of offering a worthwhile education to not just a handful, but all young people” (p. 283).    Everyone is entitled to a free education and have programs available to them.  Secondary school is for everyone.  There are multitudes of programs and classes to choose from in order to engage every type of mind.  But then why do so many students feel lost (“First day of school and I’m already failing”)?

The pressures of being a young adult are quite immense.  Not only is there the expectation to do well in school, but also to do well enough to be accepted into a good post-secondary institution, think about and plan for a career, learn a variety of new technological skills and be popular all at the same time.  A high school diploma is simply not enough to be successful in adult life.  Many careers require much more: extra curriculars, work/volunteer experience and being in the right network.  Not only has the competition for post-secondary programs and good careers increased, but so has the requirements for earning a high school diploma.   In From Hope to Harris (2002), the Ontario secondary system is examined and it details how the requirements have been altered over time.  In today’s curriculum, not only does one have to pass thirty courses, but complete community service hours and pass a literacy test.  University entrance requirements have increased along with the cost.  There is much on the shoulders of today’s teens.  One must ponder, are the extra requirements for an OSSD creating a better graduate?  Are we demanding too much, too soon?

 

“They called me chicken legs, …four-eyes,…fatso,…buckwheat,….Eddie”

 

Teaching is no longer just instructing academic curriculum.  Along with school-sanctioned clubs and activities there is also school culture and interaction.  Although many forms of school culture can be warm and inviting, a different type of interaction also occurs regularly in schools: bullying and school violence.  In “Grade Nine” the band sings of the various names they were called in school.  This could be in reference for common nicknames given to grade nine students from upper grade students in a display of harmless fun (like Grade Nine Orientation Day), however it could also be from memories of bullying.  Bullying in the 21st century encompasses many forms including bullying in person, on the internet and using cellular phones.  The Ontario Government passed Bill 81: the Safe Schools Act in 2000 in order to make schools a safe place for teachers and students.  Another duty of a teacher in Ontario is to be on the look out for bullying and report it when it is seen.  Gidney (2002) explains how behavioral problems have been multiplying for years and how governments can hardly be responsible for the change in society (p. 281) and the effect it has on schools.  However, the government can act on societal change, and in terms of bullying, it has tried to with the Safe Schools Act.

I found my locker and I found my classes

Lost my lunch and I broke my glasses

 

 

Within many examples of high school environments in the creative arts, school community is often portrayed.  While watching a school scene in a TV show or movie, rarely does the audience watch a teacher teach a lesson,  rather social involvement and the school/class community is shown.  “Curriculum as live(d)” is described by Aoki (2005) as the “curriculum experienced by students and teachers as they live through school life” (p. 322).  Another definition given by Aoki (2005) is “Curriculum as planned” which is “the conventionalized notion of curriculum, understood as mandated school subjects”.  Teachers use curriculum documents to formulate lesson and unit plans, but the way they deliver the information is completely up to them.  They can make lessons more engaging and interactive, as well as plan lessons around the group’s strengths.  Differentiated instruction is currently buzzing through the education world as teachers are encouraged to create assessment and evaluation pieces that would encourage students to perform better.  Grade nine is a crucial year as it is the introductory year for secondary school as well as the start of ladder towards career success.  Many teachers start off the year explaining to students that homework now exists, you have to develop excellent time management skills and the sole person really responsible for your education is you.  For the grade nine student, the transition is a lot to take in and quite a bit to learn.  So what can students do?

 

Schools have recognized that entering into grade nine is a large transitional step in young person’s life.  Schools have regularly welcomed the new students with barbeques, grade nine days and assemblies.  Not only are these activities supposed to say ‘Welcome’, but also serve a purpose in allowing students to set foot in the school before the ‘big day’, give out schedules and also provide tours so one does not become lost by the time they step off the bus.  One side-effect of the welcoming process is initiation.  There has been a long tradition that grade nines are initiated into the new school by the upper year students.  My uncle the week before I entered high school kept telling me that someone was going to give me a swirly.  Generally the upper year students host  “Grade Nine Day”, which can include fun “initiation” games like dunking faces into flour, food eating contests, and playing games of low organization like ‘Chuck the Chicken’.  Sometimes the initiations can take a negative turn and grade nine students become a target for bullying.  As mentioned previously this needs to be avoided. So what can schools do?

A program that has been developed to allow upper year students to welcome/mentor the new students is called the Link crew (http://www.boomerangproject.com/link). The Link crew is comprised of students who receive school leadership credits to mentor the incoming class.  Link crew teachers are specially trained to lead the group of students and assist with planning for the activities.  Not only are activities planned for the start of the year, but also for other events throughout the semester.  Rather than ‘initiating’ students, they are welcomed, high-five’d and met with a positive attitude.  According to the Link crew website, the crew is about: student leadership, orientation, transition, changing culture and sustainability.  Aoki (2005) writes “life in the classroom is not so much in the child, in the teacher, in the subject; life is lived in the spaces between and among” (p.282).  The creators of this program believe that a more positive experience will create student success.  Meaning that if the students are interested in the school, they will be interested in the With LINK crew and the Student Success Team already in place in Ontario schools, grade nines have many people to reach out to if they find themselves in trouble. In the school where I currently teach, it is the schools hope that through the Link program and our strong sense of community that we improve student success in terms of marks, and EQAO scores.   It also is hoped that some of the general awkward moments of a grade nine’s life can be avoided with a bigger and stronger school community.  Perhaps the Hall-Dennis report Living and Learning, was on to something when they stated that interest and active involvement is crucial to success (Gidney, 2005, p.74).  As Gidney (2005) explains the teacher role as a “guide, advisor and a facilitator” (p.74).  With the Link program, not only do grade nine teachers fill these roles, but the older students do as well.  Teaching staff and upper year students create a welcoming environment for new students.  School is not just a brick and mortar building where learning about Math and English but where students can grow and prosper into well-informed adults.

In conclusion, schools are a centre of learning and community building for young adults.  As with any plan, it will not always work and there will always be students who feel like an awkward minor niner.  The curriculum as planned is to allow for the majority of grade nine students feel welcomed into the new school and be happy which will lead to success.  Some students may not buy into the program, but many will and perhaps they can help bring that student to the other side.  Otherwise they could always remember their experiences and write a song about it later.

 

References:

Pinar, W.F., Irwin, R.L (2005).  Curriculum in a new key: The collected works of Ted. T. Aoki.  Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, New York.

 

Gidney, R.D. (1999). From Hope to Harris: The reshaping of Ontario’s schools.  University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

The Boomerang Group: Link Crew.  Link Crew Website: http://www.boomerangproject.com/link.

Accessed: February 28th, 2011

 

 

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