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Denebola » Article » The problem behind “N”s
50th Edition, Education

The problem behind “N”s

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By Elana Epstein, Volume 22

February 16, 1983
In the past two years, the number of students failing classes at Newton South has become a serious problem.  Rather than getting “F’s,” the majority of these students are receiving “N’s,” because they are not coming to class.
According to a recent Guidance Department study, 336 people (or approximately 24 percent of the school) received at least on “N” in the first quarter of this year; 49 students (or approximately 1 out of every 30) got at least 5 “N’s,”; and 16 of those students are repeating the year.
The Guidance Department and faculty are baffled by this phenomenon.  “We have always been perplexed by the number of students not going to class,’ stated Guidance Counselor, Sandy Alexander.
All of the students questioned offered boredom as one of the reasons for avoiding their classes.  “Many of these kids aren’t academically inclined to begin with,” stated Cutler housemaster Judy Malone Neville.  “With the open campus accessibility, they are easily distracted.”  Alexander added, “a lot of these students can’t see themselves going to college, so they question why they are here.”  She explained that “there are so many variables – it’s not just a class or ethnic struggle; it cuts across all groups.”
Students and faculty described missing classes as a vicious cycle.  “It’s like a disease,” stated one junior.  “First you don’t want to face your teacher after having missed a couple of classes.  Then, you miss all sorts of tests and quizzes that need to come be made up.  When you come back to class, you find out that you are so far behind, and that you are failing anyway, so what is the sense of going?”
Students use various methods of trying to skip classes.  According to Guidance Department chairperson, Margaret Addis, “Some students walk a tightrope – they aim to come to class the least amount they can and pass – but they system catches up with them.”
One junior described his system for missing classes.  “First, I ask myself if I can possibly blow this class off and make it.  If not, I see if I can forge a note.  If I can do either, I skip class.  If not, I go.  In this manner, I’ve only received one “N: in a year and half at South.”
Alexander interjected that, “Attendance isn’t just a curriculum two problems – it’s schoolwide.  Honors and curriculum one students play games with attendance.  They get notes that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.  This keeps many of them from getting the “N’s” that curriculum two students get.”
Problems at home can trigger a dilemma in school, “If a kid is bummed out, he wants to be with his friends.  He gets the attention from them that he is missing at home,” said one junior.
Maturity level also seems to play a big part in student’s attitudes.  “There are always a few people who seem to fail intentionally at the end of their senior year, “ stated English teacher Dorothy Gonson.  Most of the time, it’s unconscious.  They do it because they want to do next, and are afraid of life beyond Newton South.”  “You can’t see a rate at which people are suppose to mature, added Malone-Neville.
A senior who is repeating the year said that, “High school is a tricky time in people’s lives – they want to rebel.”  He emphasized the schools highly competitive atmosphere as a negative factor, and added, “every man s out for himself.”
Students had mixed feelings about the faculty’s contribution to this problem.  As one senior put it, “A lot of teachers just care about student output, they aren’t involved with the kids’ emotional problems. “  A junior added, “If you show that you don’t care, then they won’t.
Once they say that, you’re gone – you have to do it on your own.”  On the contrary, one student said, “I really don’t think that the problem stems from the teachers: basically it’s in the student’s mind.
Obviously, if he is flunking a class, he isn’t going to like the teacher.”
Although friends can be supportive, they can also put a strain on a student.  A senior humorously recalled his friend’s comment to him about having to repeat a year.  The friend declared, “and I always thought that you were so smart.”
The senior continued that, “when my college friends came home over Christmas vacation, I felt a gap between us – yet I feel as mature as they.  I felt like I was a college student trapped in the body of someone in high school.”
The Guidance Department feels that there are many things that can be done to improve the situation.
“We try not to make any pattern that fits these kids.  We try to see them as individuals, with certain needs unique to them,” stated Addis.  She explained that the hall policy daily sign-in sheets, and teacher’s response to absences b phone all help.  She stressed that the most important emphasis should be on students motivation and self-confidence.
As one senior put it, “Learning is supposed to be fun.  People think that high school is a place to go for four years, and get out of as quickly as possibly –
But you should get all that you can out of it.”
When asked about discouraging students from dropping out, Malone-Neville replied, “I don’t anymore.  I think that for some people it’s O.K.  If you’re not in school to get an education, you might as well get it in another way through working.  Only in an affluent community like Newton, would people not come to class, yet come to school (rather than working.”
An experienced senior advised, “If you start to get into a rut, think honestly why you’re not working –
There is always a reason behind it.  It is very emotional, so talk to a parent, teacher or even a psychiatrist about it.  Avoid talking to a friend – someone your won age hasn’t had the experience.”
“All it takes is the first moment of deciding that you’re going to do it.  An hour of homework a night is nothing next to repeating a year.”

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