Fun Has Its Place, but We Should Remember Priorities

Last week, I was one of hundreds of parents and students
attending the Cross Country Championships at Christmas Hill Park.
This was the sectional meet
– the final meet of the season for middle school runners.
Last week, I was one of hundreds of parents and students attending the Cross Country Championships at Christmas Hill Park. This was the sectional meet – the final meet of the season for middle school runners.

I am happy to report that local Gilroy schools were well represented.

Simply put, the best runners in the county are from Gilroy. Solorsano had an outstanding team, placing second in more than one class; they are a team to watch for next season.

South Valley’s team did not place well, but they have several standout runners on their young team.

Brownell took first place in three of six races. Two Brownell girls – Erin Slattery and Rachel Shimabakura – were the fastest of the 80 fastest runners in Santa Clara County in their respective divisions. Brownell girls were undefeated this season in both “C” and “8th grade” classes.

I am thrilled that all our middle school programs are strong. Art and Cathy Silva have built a wonderful cross-country program at Gilroy High. With the expected influx of outstanding freshman next year, the already improved Gilroy High program has nowhere to go but up.

While at these meets, I have occasion to talk to many of the parents and grandparents of these young athletes. Cross country is a sport that doesn’t have the fan base of football or basketball.

One thing that strikes me is how few of these people are out of sync when it comes to the relative importance of athletics. It is so refreshing to be with people who get it – adults and children whose lives are in balance.

A balanced life is important for all of us; we must give due measure to all aspects of life. I try to juggle marriage, children, career, health, spirituality, volunteering and personal finance so that none of these facets of my life overwhelm any other. It is no different for children.

Children need to realize the importance of all the aspects of their hectic lives.

In my opinion, school sports should never take precedence over academics. This is not to say that children should forego sports or other extra-curricular activities, but parents should realize that the first priority, the work of children, is learning in the classroom.

Sports, clubs, music lessons, scouting and other hobbies all have their place, and that place should be secondary to the classroom experience.

Some people believe that focusing on academic excellence is not what is needed to improve our schools.

A recent letter writer stated that “I want my child to have fun at school and enjoy it” while at the same time applauding the many field trips. That statement is a little confusing since field trips by definition don’t take place at school.

I have been the parent chaperone at the Pumpkin Patch, Happy Hollow Zoo, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Mission San Juan Bautista, the San Francisco Zoo, the Tech Museum and the San Jose Museum of Art.

Yes, my kids had fun at all these places. No one on the School Board is suggesting that kindergarten students stop going to the pumpkin patch at Halloween.

Let me be clear: What is appropriate for an 8-year-old is not what is appropriate for an 18-year-old; especially one who has a single semester left to pass the high school exit exam.

This 18-year-old will learn nothing that will enable him or her to graduate by spending a day at the zoo or three days in Fresno. That, not the pumpkin patch, is the topic of discussion.

The fact is that once students leave elementary school, field trips appropriately dry up. With the exception of a yearly Disneyland trip for the band students and sixth grade Science Camp, middle school students do not go on any field trips.

In eighth grade, they get one “fun day” at Great America before being promoted to high school. Field trips take a break in GUSD for grades 6 through 8, and then come back with a vengeance at Gilroy High.

One day away from school becomes three or five or nine days out of school for some GHS students. I believe that the abundance of overnight trips has become institutionalized at our high school, even while this is not the kind of “best practice” we see at high performing high schools.

I think that what happens in high school is worlds apart from what happens in elementary school.

It would be an egregious mistake for a parent to take pride in the fact that his or her teenager “had fun and enjoyed it” at Gilroy High if they failed to graduate.

Anecdotal reports have shown that graduating is a whole lot easier to accomplish if you actually make it to class.

With 20 percent of current Gilroy High seniors now in danger of not graduating, I believe it is imperative that our elected officials address this issue.

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