Student petitions for equal treatment of ninth graders
December 4, 2007
Sarah Brothers just wanted to appear in yearbook sibling photos with her brother, Andrew, a senior at Park City High School. After talking with teachers, she found out that because she was in ninth grade, she was not allowed to be in the photograph with him.
Brothers discussed the dilemma with her dad. He told her to do something about it which is exactly what she did. Over two days, Brothers collected 95 signatures, including nine teachers and 10 upperclassmen. She then drafted a resolution and presented it to the school board on Tuesday, Nov. 20.
The resolution states that ninth-grade students should be granted the same rights and privileges that are available to 10 through 12 graders.
"I felt like it was important because normally we would be over at the high school, but because of the realignment, we’re not," she said. "It’s been an issue every year, but no one has ever done anything about it."
"Homecoming is where the controversy arises every year, but then it usually settles down," Bob O’Connor, principal at Treasure Mountain International Middle School, said. "We’re trying to make the ninth-graders here have everything they had at the high school."
He said that part of the planning process and doing realigning the schools, which began in 2005, was that ninth-graders would not miss out on any opportunities that they had when it was a four-year high school.
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"I was told after the realignment that I wouldn’t lose any rights," ninth-grader Rachel Bollwinkel said. "Just because we’re in a different school doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be treated differently."
Andrea Payne, mathematics teacher at Treasure Mountain, said that the bottom line was that when the schools were split it was mainly a building issue. "I thought it was just for space purposes, but I think it has turned into something bigger than that."
While lack of space initially spurred discussion about the realignment, school board president Kim Carson said, after years of investigation by a committee of teachers, parents, administrators and community leaders, the group decided to realign the middle and high schools based on several issues, including maturity levels of students, social and academic needs, as well as building-space concerns.
"One item that I believe was a strength of the realignment was the separation of eighth- and ninth-graders from high schoolers," she said "There were a lot of parents concerned about the influence of older students."
Payne said that, after hearing Brothers discussing her situation with sibling pictures, she thought, "OK, the exclusion of the ninth-graders has gone a little too far, so I told her I would support her."
Kathleen Brandon, a ninth-grade social studies teacher, also signed the petition. "I always like to listen to kids and their voices," she said. "I think they’ve been disenfranchised about the activities they can participate in."
Ninth-grader Katie Selby said she and her brother, who’s at the high school, like to go to football games together, "but we always get separated because he can just walk in, and I have to pay."
O’Connor said that he spoke with Doug Payne , the activities coordinator at PCHS. Payne has met with PCHS principal Hilary Hayes, and he is in favor of allowing ninth-graders to attend those types of activities, but he said that they’ll have to pay the activities fee that 10- through 12-graders pay at registration.
O’Connor said there is also a strong argument for ninth-graders to be able to attend a portion of the high school dances as well. Both Payne and Brandon agree. "I know of a case where a freshman was asked to the junior prom and couldn’t go," Brandon said. "If they’re invited, why shouldn’t they be able to go," Payne said.
And it’s not just about the dances, games and assemblies. For Brandon, it’s also about responsibility. "I think the ninth-graders are less mature now because they’re not given the same responsibilities as before," she said. "I believe that if you give the students responsibilities, they will act more responsibly. They are looked upon with more of a middle school mentality than a high school mentality."
This is one of the reasons ninth-grader Christina Astle signed the petition. "All the teachers say we’re ninth-graders and we should be acting like it, but we’re not at the high school and not getting the same rights; it’s just really stupid," she said.
Treasure Mountain English teacher Danielle Clark said that the ninth-grade students she teaches work just as hard and have shown responsibility in their school work and a commitment to their academics. "I think they deserve to be treated like the high schoolers that they are," she said. It was because of this injustice that ninth-grader Tessa Eihausen signed the petition.
"The whole thing is really unfair. We work just as hard as they do, and it all goes toward college," Eihausen said. "Most of the ninth-graders have two or more classes at the high school. If you take a higher math than algebra II, it’s over there; all freshmen sports are over there, and unless you’re at the high school, you can’t participate in the assemblies."
Not being able to go to the homecoming pep rally was something that really bothered Eihausen. "At first they said we could go, and then they said no and we had to stay in the Eccles Center," she said.
"We’ve always had separate assemblies," O’Connor said. "The high school determines whether it’s a four-grade or a three-grade assembly. We have separate assemblies for things pertinent to our building."
Principal at PCHS Hilary Hayes said that one of the reasons the high school does not have four-grade assemblies is lack of space.
Whatever comes of Brothers petition, O’Connor said he was pleased with the way she handled the situation. "I was glad that she decided to act and take a positive approach to the situation instead of just sitting back and complaining about it," he said. "She did an admirable thing to move forward in such a positive way."
Treasure Mountain counselor Diane Cashel was also impressed by Brothers actions. "I like to see the students empowering themselves and doing it in a proper way, through more of an educational means," she said.
However, Hayes said Brothers should have contacted the yearbook teacher or come to her with concerns first before going to the school board. "I think if you have a question about Park City High School, the best people to talk to are the people at Park City High School," she said.
Hayes said she has yet to receive any requests on the matter from the school board. The board plans to hold a regular session meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4, where the issue will be discussed further, said Carson. "This is not a decision that can be made overnight," she said. "It is something we need to take a serious look at and address any unforeseen implications."