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Those all-too-mobile students

January 17, 2006

Remember your first day attending a new school? If your experience was typical, you probably were a bit confused by the layout of the building - and where the restrooms were.

More important, you probably worried about whether you would make new friends, whether the teacher would like you and whether you could adjust to a new setting.

Now imagine going through that a couple of times a year. As you might expect, it leaves such children lagging behind their classes - and sometimes unable to catch up.

The problem was highlighted again this past Sunday in Herald-Mail reporter Karen Hanna's continuing series on Hagerstown's Bester Elementary School.

Bester, which has almost 550 students, has seen 61 students leave the district since school began Aug. 24. Another 59 have moved in during the same time period.

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The in-and-out movement is gauged with a statistic called the "mobility rate." Bester's rate is 37 percent, the making it the least stable of all the county's elementary schools.

It is no accident that the mobility rate is higher at those schools that have a higher percentage of lower-income families. The things that give families stability - steady work, home ownership and a support network of family and friends - are more likely to be absent among poor families.

And, as property values increase and rents go up, the problem is unlikely to get better without intervention of some sort.

Emphasizing the importance of stability to parents would be a good start. Some undoubtedly need a reminder that the coping skills adults use to deal with upheavals - economic and otherwise - aren't fully developed in children.

But before events overtake these families, it would be nice to see them offered more help with housing and other economic problems. If parents come to see the school as a source of help, versus another situation to be dealt with, it might make it easier for them to take the anti-mobility message to heart.

It might also make it easier for teachers to work on the day's lessons, as opposed to helping out "the new kids."

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