By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Junior high siren call: Beware of throwing the baby out with bath water
Placeholder Image

There is a quiet debate going on in Ripon.

Some segments of the community are pushing for the next school that’s built to be a junior high.

Their argument is - as the case for any change should always be - that it is a better way to educate and prepare youngsters for challenges that are ahead of them.

Whether it is indeed better is more a matter of preference than it is absolute hardcore fact.

Ripon Unified - just like Manteca Unified - made a decision a number of years ago to go with the kindergarten through eighth grade configuration and a ninth through 12th grade comprehensive high school. A school district with junior high typically groups grades kindergarten through sixth, seventh through ninth, and 10th through 12th together on separate campuses.

One argument for junior highs is that it allows for more electives and therefore more specialized instruction in subject areas that older students would not receive in an elementary school format. That, in theory, prepares them better to enjoy success in high school and beyond.

You can find case studies that prove that. You also find studies that show students are better off in a kindergarten through eighth grade format. So which is it?

A lot of it depends on the community, the parents, the teachers, and the individual students.

Right now, it is hard to argue against what Ripon Unified is doing if you use state testing as the yardstick. They consistently have the better performing elementary schools in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Manteca Unified is also enjoying success with the K-8 format.

So why change it?

Change can be good. Just ask someone who has gone from a personal computer or even a laptop to a tablet. You find yourself opening new doors based on the framework provided by the tablet.

But change for the sake of change is often bad. You can easily use a tablet and not improve productivity, creativity, and expand valuable knowledge. It is easy to just become enamored by the social media aspect and instantaneous access to everything from movies to quick and shallow web surfing.

The framework of a junior high can indeed open new possibilities.

But it also opens Pandora’s Box when it comes to accelerating the social side of public schools.

It’s been said for the last four generations or so that kids are growing up too fast. They said it when they allowed eight graders to have a dance that wasn’t connected with advancing to high school. They said it when seventh and eighth graders produced their own yearbooks. Usually such observations were coupled with a statement such as “they won’t have anything to look forward to in high school.”

But the real concern should be the danger of letting an experience such as junior high accelerate not just a repertoire of social issues but pushing students too quickly into more elective offerings.

There are a lot of positive things a junior high can offer. Done right, you could probably have an end result that matches or exceeds what is happening right now in Ripon’s schools.

Making sure the basics are well understood and critical thinking skills are developed is key to everything. That’s a big argument for the kindergarten through eighth grade system.

Kids can get all of the “socialization skills” they need today without ever actually coming face-to-face physically with someone whether it is talking or playing a game.

The real big advantage for the future is not only being savvy with high tech skills, math, foreign languages and such but having a complete comprehension of basics and a strong groundwork laid for creative or critical thinking.

One should never confuse the vessel - whether it is K-8 or a junior high format - for the “grunt” work necessary to allow one’s foundation absorb the weight of all of the other possibilities that are out there.

Ripon Unified schools are doing fine. And yes, they should work toward the next level.

What will get you there is not investing time and energy into changing the physical framework of the system but fine tuning and directing classroom resources into making teachers even more effective than they are today.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.