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Grades Slide as Youths Say School’s Uncool

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A majority of seventh- and eighth-graders at Fillmore Middle School are flunking at least one subject, and parents and teachers say it is because students believe that studying is out of fashion and education is unnecessary to achieve success.

More than half of the students have earned at least one D or F grade during the first quarter of the school year, while 15% of those had two or more Fs, school records show.

“It’s a really frustrating situation. We have far too many kids who are not doing their best,” said Fillmore Unified School District Supt. Mario Contini. “They simply don’t care about doing homework or studying.”

The district’s students have one of the highest poverty rates in the county and routinely post test scores below the state average. Low grades have been a recurring problem, but the level of failure has escalated during the past year, said Principal Phillip Catalano.

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County Supt. of Schools Charles Weis, who once worked as an administrator in Fillmore, called the numbers a “cause for concern.” Traditionally, Weis said, Ds and Fs should account for no more than 15% of all grades.

Alarmed by the trend, parents and teachers gathered at the school’s gym Thursday to discuss how they can change students’ attitudes toward education and motivate them to do well.

Catalano began the three-hour seminar by urging parents and teachers to create a partnership and work with the students.

“We need to create a positive force to counter the negative one facing our children,” Catalano said. “Students are failing because they are choosing to not do their homework. . . . We can’t let this continue.”

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Although school administrators had sent invitations to the families of all 540 students enrolled in the middle school, only about 40 parents attended the meeting. Participants said that holding the meeting on a weekday morning was probably what kept the turnout low.

“I’m sad and disappointed that more parents did not show up,” Catalano said. “I know that some parents have to work and that some wish they were here, but it’s still frustrating.”

Lisa Henderson, whose son will attend the middle school next year, was not surprised that so few parents attended the meeting.

“A lot of parents feel intimidated by the school, while others are just in denial,” said Henderson, who is worried about her son’s prospects at the school. “A large number of parents don’t want to know about their kids getting bad grades.”

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Since she learned about the high number of flunking students, Henderson said, she and five other parents have been trying to form a committee to work with students, but their efforts have been thwarted by parents who say they don’t have time.

“It’s pathetic,” she said. “A lot of the parents say they have other things to do.”

Several parents at Thursday’s seminar said their children don’t think of education as a path to success in life, and that students who do their homework are even ostracized by those who don’t.

Darlene Holmes, whose 12-year-old has received several Ds and Fs, said her son’s attitude toward education is “pure apathy.”

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“He told me that the kids would tease him about being a ‘schoolboy’ and he hated it,” Holmes said. “That’s why he stopped doing homework. He just couldn’t stand the peer pressure.”

Parents and teachers suggested a number of possible responses at Thursday’s seminar, including creating a parents committee to supervise students; requiring that students with a failing grade bring a parent, grandparent or other adult to every class until their grades are up, and urging teachers to be more strict with students.

But many came away from the meeting with little hope. The parents and teachers agreed to gather again, but no date was scheduled.

“We need more than a handful of parents involved,” said Cynthia Enriquez, whose daughter attends the middle school. “We need the entire community to help children change their attitude toward education.”

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