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Students flow in and out of Bester at a regular rate

January 15, 2006|By KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

From Bester Elementary School to Florida to Tennessee to West Virginia, the kindergartner saw some of the country - and not enough of the classroom - in moves with his mother.

What they left behind could have been a chance at school success for a student who already was struggling, Principal Kathy Stiles said.

For Bester students, changing schools is nothing new.

Since the start of school Aug. 24, 61 students have left Bester and 59 students have moved into the school, according to statistics compiled by the school. The school's population was 542 students as of Friday.

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According to Stiles, probably three-quarters of the students who move in and out of Bester move more than once. That includes one little boy earlier this year who moved with his mother, a woman in her early 20s, from one state to the next, Stiles said. With no real home, the boy started school late, and he did not stay very long, she said.

"I mean, they show up somewhere, and they're behind, they're way behind," Stiles said.

With an overall mobility rate of more than 37 percent, Bester ranked among the least stable elementary schools in Washington County last year. Of students who began the year at Bester, 22.3 percent left before the end of the school year. Their seats were filled by the 14.8 percent of students who entered school during the school year.

The county elementary schools' overall mobility rate was 22.7 percent, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. At 22.6 percent, Eastern Elementary School had the highest rate of new students entering after the start of the school year, while Winter Street's withdrawal rate of 22.6 percent was slightly higher than Bester's.

The winter break often gives families an opportunity to cut ties or start again somewhere else, Stiles said. Over break, 10 students left Bester. Half stayed in the county school system, Stiles said, while five moved out of state. Five other students - two from the county and three from out of the county - moved to Bester.

According to Stiles, the academic skills of all of the newcomers - four students are first-graders and one is a kindergartner - are lagging.

"Kids who move a lot have a harder time, usually," Stiles said. "The five that moved, the five that came into Bester, are already behind. We have to move them into interventions."

As a pupil personnel worker, Susie Michael said she tries to help families address problems that could be affecting students' school performance. A former counselor at Bester, Michael now splits her time among eight schools, most of them on the south side, she said.

To provide students who move from school to school more consistency, Michael said Thursday that Washington County Public Schools has adopted a systemwide curriculum, pacing and standardized procedures for dealing with students' behavior.

More than two years ago, the Board of Education spent more than $1 million on a reading program that has been implemented throughout the county.

Seeking stability



Michael said the school system tries to provide students with as much stability as it can.

"Certainly, the most mobile students have the highest rate of difficulty and drop out," Michael said.

Other students are fairly resilient, she said.

Stiles said that although she tried to convince the mother of the kindergartner mentioned earlier of the importance of early education, the woman since has bounced from state to state.

"It makes you sick, but then, what can you do?" Stiles said.

The mother and the boy were homeless at the beginning of the school year, Stiles said.

Michael said the school system is obligated to accommodate the needs of homeless students who might be living in an area outside their school of origin.

Homeless students might be living in shelters, motels or with friends or family because of economic hardship, she said. Not all families in such situations know their children qualify for transportation to their schools of origin.

"This particular safeguard says that for five days a week, seven hours a day, children can be in a place with people they know, with people they hopefully trust, to offer them stability, if their home ... if their life at home has changed drastically," Michael said.

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