A little friend of mine from the library stopped me to have a hug. Ever since I left the position of Children's Librarian, I have been running into kids who knew me as "Miss Ginny." They stop me in the grocery store, at the beach, in Brookgreen Gardens, on the street in Georgetown, at Wal-Mart – just about everywhere. Whenever we visit South Carolina, I can count on seeing a few of my former library friends.
The friend who got the most recent hug is an eight-year old. She is very friendly and personable and – in some ways – precocious. I asked her how she was and she said, "I'm staying back this year." I didn't catch on right away and asked what she meant. She explained, "I'm staying back in third grade. I didn't learn enough to go to fourth."
A response to that statement from a child is very hard to give. I put my arm around her shoulder and said "I'm sure you'll be the star of your class next year." She gave me a wistful smile and said "I'd better be!" We laughed together and she ran off to join her Mommy.
I felt bad for her. Failure of any kind is hard to take. We human beings hate to be told that we don't measure up, even if – in our heart of hearts – we know that it's true.
Flunking a grade in school must be one of the hardest failures to accept. All of your friends move on to the next grade and you don't. Most of the kids who come up from the lower grade to join you think you're dumb – and so do the ones who got ahead of you.
No, Dr. Smith is NOT saying that there should be NO failure in schools. Achievement in education must be measured and – if certain levels are not reached in appropriate time – then failure is mandated. However, failure in school MUST be the last resort and never a surprise.
Parents should be warned if their child is possibly going to fail no later than January. Most teachers worth their salt will be able to tell by then if a child isn't making sufficient progress. Waiting until May (or even June in some awful cases) is cruel and unusual punishment. The excuse given by teachers who play the surprise game is –"If I tell them too soon, the child will stop working and be disruptive for the rest of the year." I didn't say it is necessary to tell the child – just the parents. Allow the adults in the family to have a heads up on the situation and be able somehow to prepare the child for the blow.
Sometimes, telling the parents in January will cause them to find help for the child – and perhaps a promotion can ensue. With the teacher and parents working together, being honest with each other, and putting the student's welfare first, who knows what can happen??
Telling a child that he or she must repeat a whole year of school is a crushing blow. Every step should be taken to insure that doesn't happen. If a parent hears about a possible failure early enough, a tutor can be found, extra work can be given, or study aids can be obtained.
Schools are approaching the end of another academic year. It won't be long before some children will hear the dreaded words "You're staying back." Let's hope everything has been done to prevent that from happening.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANOTHER EDUCATION ANHD FAMILY TOPIC WITH DR. SMITH, SHE CAN BE REACHED AT HER EMAIL ADDRESS: JSMITH1313@CFL.RR.COM  OR IN CARE OF THIS NEWSPAPER.