Posts Tagged ‘LMSD’

7 November, 2011

Who Takes Care of the Student Athlete?

img_9544Two days ago the vast state of Pennsylvania woke up to news of a fresh scandal involving allegations that a coach at Penn State University sexually assaulted and abused at least eight student-athletes in his care. You can read more about the case here. Below, a few snippets form the case:

Sandusky, 67, faces 40 abuse charges, including 21 felonies. Sandusky, released on $100,000 bail, is charged with abusing eight boys between 1994 and 2009, with some incidents said to have taken place in a Penn State athletics building. He retired from Paterno’s staff in 1999.

Athletics director Tim Curley is going on administrative leave at his request, according to a statement from the school board of trustees late Sunday. Senior vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz will step down and go back into retirement. The two face charges they perjured themselves before a grand jury and failed to notify law enforcement authorities of child sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky.

A student athlete is defined as “a participant in an organized competitive sport sponsored by the educational institution in which he or she is enrolled. The term student-athlete is used to describe the direct balance of a full-time student and a full-time athlete.” The NCAA has clear guidelines (sometimes observed in the breach), regarding the management of the student (who is also an athlete), and the degree to which a coach can and cannot be involved in the conduct of the student’s life outside the time allocated to coaching that student in a sport and the playing of that sport.

I had reason to look into those guidelines with regard to the management of high school athletic programs here in the Lower Merion School District and I was shocked to discover that many of the laws governing that relationship between coach and student at the NCAA level were being violated by one of the coaches at the high school. Agreed, the NCAA guidelines do not cover high school athletes, however, it stands to reason that whatever limitations are places upon college coaches who are dealing for the most part with adults, ought to be far less severe than guidelines in place at high schools for coaches dealing with minors, particularly those coaches who are working with children of the opposite sex, even more so if the child’s health is at risk.

How is it possible, for instance, that there are clear guidelines for teachers who see students perhaps once a day for an hour – and never img_5691send them emails using a personal email address not associated with the district whether school is in session or not, or invite them to dinner in their homes or make mixed CDs for them, or abuse their parents, or demand that they do not participate in other school sanctioned activities, or bully them one at a time into agreeing to continue participating in a class of the teacher’s choice – but none for coaches who spend several hours with students within and outside the school environment? In all fairness, this particular school district (Lower Merion), is taking this discrepency very seriously. After all, we live in an area where you can’t sneeze without a gesundheit from a trigger-happy lawyer.

11/10/11 – Addendum:The documents released by the grand jury in the case against Sandusky describes the testimony of Steven Turchetta, the assistant principal and the head football coach at the high school that Victim 1 attended:

Turchetta characterized Sandusky as very needy within the mentoring relationship he established with Second Mile students. Sandusky would often want a greater time commitment than the teenagers were willing to give and Sandusky would have “shouting matches” with various youth in which Turchetta would sometimes be the mediator. Turchetta would also end up being Sandusky’s point of contact for a youth he had been unable to reach by phone the previous evening. Turchetta testified that Sandusky would be “clingy” and even “needy” when a young man broke off the relationship he had established with him and called the behavior “suspicious.”

As the administration in general and principals and athletic directors in particular within the schools that belong to this district deal with these matters, they would be wise to reflect on the events unfolding in our own backyard at PSU. In the end, the adults in charge are to blame. In the end, the particular adult who broke the rules of engagement isn’t the only one to take the fall, and with good reason. The people who supervise the coaches and the people who supervise the people supervising the coaches are all culpable. Schultz and Curley are history and there are calls that the board of trustees fire Graham Spanier, the president. head coach, Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier have both been fired. Underlining all of this is a gigantic financial price tag that the university will have to fold into a budget that is supposed to deliver services to students. That’s usually the way things shake down. It would be a pity if this school district (which is beleaguered by people who rush to lawsuits before trying to get school staff and district administration to do the right thing), refuses to take the complaints of multiple parents seriously and ends up precipitating exactly the kind of negative publicity, financial burden and demoralizing school environment that are part and parcel of lawsuits.

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1 February, 2011

The Miseducation of the American Child

I’ve been immersed in childhood recently. The unfettering of it, the recollection of it and, most of all, understanding it; I’m a parent of this milieu, I have to understand all things. Straddling these three points, however, has me in a bit of a knot. Picture the children’s game, twister, and you have your image.

As I said recently to a swim coach from Lower Merion High School whom I’ve come to know and like, I am all about saving the entire world on any given day. Education, primary and secondary education to be precise, is a cornerstone of that intention. Watching the movie ‘Waiting for Superman’ twice, with friends, was a large part of that cornerstone and one I reflected on after. Watching ‘Race to Nowhere,’ came next.

Therein, the knots. Both movies are about education, but their points of intersection are few. While ‘Waiting for Superman’ bemoans a system that cannot reward excellence in teaching and tracks students from Kindergarten through High School – thereby trapping a child in years of low/high expectations – and advocates intensifying time spend in school, ‘Race to Nowhere’ demands the opposite. Less time spent in school and on school work. Perhaps that is not altogether unexpected: the first movie concentrates on the teeming masses of the under privileged, for the most part, whereas the latter focusses on the far smaller group, the severely driven children of the upper echelons who go through life with the whirring of helicopter blades above their heads. The only common thread is this: neither high pressure nor low is working.

So what is or will work, and who is responsible? I belong fairly in the group that is addressed by ‘Race to Nowhere.’ I live in a suburb where the public and private schools are only distinguishable from each other by the lack of uniforms in one and the presence of them in the latter. Their facilities do not differ, their students graduate and enter prestigious four year colleges in equal rates. Lower Merion High School has been ranked by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 60 high schools in the nation, public or private. But through personal experience and anecdote I have come to understand that the drive for not only the perfect college but the perfect college application, has turned many Lower Merion’s students into young people who are riddled with self-doubt and low self-esteem (always guaranteed outcomes when one plays the comparison game as these students do, and incessantly). They – like those students profiled in the movie – are less interested in a particular subject as they are in the “right” combination of subjects – and activities – that will “sell” them to a college.

And then what? That is a question that has, it seems, never been posed to these students. They have, it seems, managed to go through over fifteen years of academic instruction (give or take a few depending on pre-K non/enrollment), without ever having understood that there is no externally imposed formula for happiness or success. Life, they seem not have been told, is not lived behind desks or inside glossy portfolios. It unfurls in the trenches. There is no “right” combination. There is no “right” college. And if they have been made to believe that getting into the “right” college is the be all and end all of their existence, I fear for the impoverishment of spirit and mind that is sure to follow in the wake of graduation four years hence. There is only one “right” and that is the student herself. She, made more interesting through her lacks and nuance, her gifts and struggles, her awkwardness and misfitting, her good or bad grades, her prancing on a stage or her awe as the audience, her gift of language or lack thereof, her poor singing voice and the amazing arrow of her body diving into a pool or flying along a track, she is perfect. And it is that flawed perfection – not the list of awards and mindless regurgitation of fact and figure – that creates the perfect school or college or other environment, and, eventually, the perfect family, community and nation.

We know this, as adults. How then has that disappeared from view when, last time I checked, we were the people in charge? I saw this movie at the William Penn Charter School, the nation’s oldest Quaker School. Screening this movie was certainly in keeping with the school’s commitment to intellectual curiosity and support of a larger community. But I was hard pressed, as I sat there, to reconcile the splendor of the newly dedicated Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts (which rivals the Kimmel Center here in Philadelphia), with the school’s mission statement that also embraces honesty, compassion and simplicity. The splendor of the auditorium in which I sat grated on the images that rose in my mind of the many different Friends Meeting Houses in which I had contemplated “that of God in everyone,” all of them simple, all of them devoid of ostentation, all of them remarkably well suited to the pursuit of simplicity. How does a school’s administration convince a student seated in such grandeur – an administration that saw fit to pursue the acquisition of such grandeur – that their lives should reflect the worth of scholarship acquired through diligence and innate interest and that their spirits should be nurtured through quiet reflection in places that foster such reflection? How does one speak the word, simplicity, on such a stage? Admittedly, I am biased toward the arts and a part of me does feel that if spending must occur, let it be in the direction of the arts, but still.

To their credit, the administrators who facilitated the discussion after the movie spoke candidly about the fact that theirs was a college-preparatory school, though they alluded to the fact that somehow it was parents paying $28,000 a year who were driving this focus, not themselves. So are parents the ones at fault? According to an article titled ‘All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting,’ in New York Magazine (July 10th, 2010), Jennifer Senior writes:

Martin Seligman, the positive-psychology pioneer who is, famously, not a natural optimist, has always taken the view that happiness is best defined in the ancient Greek sense: leading a productive, purposeful life. And the way we take stock of that life, in the end, isn’t by how much fun we had, but what we did with it. (Seligman has seven children.)

So, are parents to blame? Stay tuned, because you know I’ve got some feelings about that.

The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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