RACINE — The hallways of Mitchell Middle School look very different in between classes this school year.
“Instead of a bell ringing and everybody goes out and goes wherever they want (like last year), the kids line up with a teacher and the teacher moves them to the next class,” explained Principal Soren Gajewski.
The change was made to cut down on bullying, fights, thefts and other incidents, which school data showed usually started in the halls, Gajewski said.
Shifting from a traditional middle school passing time to the controlled lines reflects a national trend that’s gotten positive results, but reviews from local students and parents are mixed so far.
Some parents favor the change to increase safety, but parent Erica Carter, 39, of Racine, worries the new setup won’t adequately prepare students for high school and its busy passing times.
“It’s just so different,” said Carter, a cafeteria worker at Mitchell. “I mean, these are middle schoolers and they’re being treated like elementary schoolers.”
Students expressed a similar concern and, though they admitted fights and tardiness both seem to be down, they nonetheless brought forward another critique.
“There’s less freedom” and less time to talk to friends, said eighth-grader Mateo Garcia.
But Gajewski said he doesn’t share such concerns. He’s confident students will be able to find their way in high school and said their time with friends is not his priority.
“We’re not worried about if they have time to talk to their friends,” he said. “What our school district is worried about, in the middle of the night when we’re thinking about our kids and their futures, (is) their education.”
Gajewski added that the new class-switching method takes less time than the traditional passing time setup and “students are much calmer going into the next class” so teachers can get them on task faster, increasing students’ overall learning time, Gajewski said.
Students in the same grade all take the same academic classes so it’s easy to lead them from one class to the next in a group. Even students in advanced classes tend to be in the same advanced classes with the same kids all day, Gajewski said.
And when it comes to elective classes, students from the various academic rooms get into lines headed to their elective, with a teacher leading the way, he said.
Mitchell, 2701 Drexel Ave., is so far the only Racine Unified middle school to make such a change, said district spokeswoman Stacy Tapp.
But Mitchell is not alone overall. Gajewski said Milwaukee middle schools have similar practices. Putting students in lines for class-switching is also increasingly common in charter schools around the country, said Joan Goodman, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.
“Becoming highly structured and controlling of children’s behavior in class and out is a trend,” she said, adding studies have shown the trend is effective. “I know these charter schools have turned around violent schools into peaceful schools.”
That’s because controlling students in the hallways nips problems in the bud “before talking leads to shouting leads to poking leads to hurting injuries,” said Goodman, an expert in behavior and morality in schools.
But, she added, “whether it’s worth the cost you pay in terms of child pleasures and spontaneity and self-control, … I don’t know.”
Gajewski has decided it’s worth it for his school.
“We want kids safe at school and learning.”