Sixth Grade Added to Murchison Street Elementary

By Luis Uribe, EFE News Service

A group of students from a low-income community in Los Angeles started sixth grade at their elementary school instead of the middle school they were going to be sent to thanks to an effort by their principal, teachers and parents.

For years now, parents from Murchison Street Elementary, in Northeast Los Angeles, had been preoccupied with the change that children experienced when they finished elementary school and went on to the area’s middle school.

At El Sereno Middle School, students began to feel the pressure and even the attraction of gangs. “There are 105 children, the majority being Latino,” explained Margarita Gutierrez, principal of the elementary school.

“To get to the middle school, students would have to take the bus, because they have to cross the train tracks which isn’t safe, and there’s no other way to get there,” said the educator.

Because they arrive on the bus, other students call them “from the other side of the tracks” and they link them to Ramona Gardens, a residential project that has been linked to gang violence.

“They are stigmatized and unfortunately the children have to suffer it,” added the principal, who says that when stereotyped, “they look for the protection of the older kids and that’s when they hang out with youth who are in gangs.”

Murchison is not the only school to have added a sixth grade.

“Various schools in the area have added sixth grade, we’re not the only ones. The difference is that our community has been trying to add not only a sixth grade, but also seventh and eighth grades,” she added.

Also, adding a sixth grade has helped the school’s budget.

“It saved teacher positions. That was good for the school but it also meant a challenge for the rest of the teachers who have never taught at that grade level,” said Gutierrez.

The challenge of teaching at that level with that academic competitiveness is attractive to teachers.

“I think the kids are really enjoying the changes in going from one classroom to another and the added responsibility,” said Sandra Romero, one of the three teachers teaching sixth grade. “Responsibilities like helping with the teaching material and activity collaboration or taking notes that will help with homework,” said Romero, who coordinates the project.

Students feel more content because they are the oldest in the school, and are safe and cared for.

For the principal, teacher support has been essential, however, even while it’s clear that students are “socially more at peace, we also need them to have a good learning experience here,” said Gutierrez, who emphasizes the need for good academic results.

The principal meets monthly with parents from the sixth grade to evaluate the progress of the project and to make recommendations and changes accordingly.

“Information is exchanged and they make a report of the support they offer at home,” she said. At those meetings, they are also discussing the future because although adding a sixth grade was relatively easy, continuing with seventh and eighth grade raises different questions.

“The school should have the necessary equipment for the sciences like laboratories and for physical education so kids can change clothes and we don’t have that here yet,” she said.

Gutierrez also thinks they should prepare them for the future.

“Parents and teachers should have communication with the middle school. Because if we don’t resolve these problems, they will occur in high school and if the students are not prepared, the same thing will happen.”
For now, these 105 students who on average are 11 years of age, have entered a change more favorable and secure for their education.

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October 2, 2008  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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