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Apodaca: Middle schools continue to evolve

February 04, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

Parents of elementary school students bound for Corona del Mar and Costa Mesa high schools are undoubtedly pleased that plans are finally underway to create separate middle-school "enclaves" on both campuses.

The lack of any separation between middle- and high-school students at both of these grades 7-12 campuses has long been a cause for worry in the community.

I've seen the horrified looks on the faces of some parents as they've picked up their prepubescent 12-year-olds at school parking lots swarming with high-schoolers. I've watched them grimace at the sight of screeching tires, and giant 17-year-olds shouting profanities and making out in full view of the middle-school kids.

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I've been one of those parents.

The enclaves are the district's long-sought answer to those parental concerns. Though they won't result in separate campuses — the district has for years maintained that there aren't enough students to justify freestanding middle schools in the CdM and Costa Mesa zones — the construction projects will provide more distinct spaces on both campuses for most core middle-school classes, lockers, break areas and some support services.

The projects, which also include new theaters for both schools, are being funded through Measure F, the $282-million bond approved by Newport-Mesa Unified School District voters in 2005. If all goes as planned, construction will begin this summer.

But it would be a mistake to think that a bricks-and-mortar solution alone will be sufficient to grapple with the complex issues involved in teaching middle-school students.

Indeed, the reconfiguration of both campuses provides an opportunity that shouldn't be missed to reconsider the way we educate this important age group.

First, a little history: Throughout much of the 19th century, schools in the United States were typically divided into high schools and primary schools that taught through the eighth grade. In the late 1800s, Harvard President Charles Eliot proposed creating separate schools for the few years before high school. The idea was to mimic the high school experience as a means to keep students engaged, and thus deflate the huge dropout rate after grade 8.

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