February 2019 Newsletter

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Why Elementary Schools Have Grading Right

As Thurston transitions to a standards-based grading system, I can’t help but reflect on my own schooling and anticipate my two and three-year-old boys’ experience. Seems far off, but every parent I know insists it will be here before I know it.

I recall elementary school in Flint, Michigan as a place where I enjoyed learning. This was back when buzzwords like “Project-Based Learning” and “STEAM” just meant “school” and “Play-Based Learning” just meant “more recess." Numerical feedback was given on a few key reading, writing, and citizenship standards, but my little 7-year-old self really only cared about two things: Does the teacher like me? and Am I learning stuff? Aside from a kindergarten teacher who violently smacked my desk with a ruler when I drew an apple on the wrong side of the paper, I had mostly phenomenal teachers.

In junior high, things started to shift. We were assigned letter grades and started taking standardized tests. Anyone remember ITBS? Just take Irritable Bowel Syndrome and add a “T”: The Iowa Test of Basic Skills. This is when the focus - for me at least - shifted from learning for the sake of learning to doing for the sake of getting a grade or score. This coincided with preadolescence, precisely the time when I started caring the most about what my peers thought.

In this flawed system, although I paid for it later, I was one of the lucky ones. I was a good test taker (chance), an exceptional reader (thanks mom), and highly competitive (two older brothers and a love of sports). So I got mostly As with the occasional B. At conferences I heard the “Rory is so bright” and “School comes easy to him” narrative, blah blah blah. If there was any critical feedback, it was along the lines of “when he gets his work done he can distract others.” So the message I received had nothing to do with learning. I was being told “You’re really good at playing the game of school.” And when a 13-year-old is really good at something and is repeatedly told that, what incentive is there to work any harder?

High school wasn't much different, although several teachers recognized the last thing I needed was reminders that I was “smart.” All the while I had my eye on my GPA, which was sitting nicely at 3.8, just above my brother and just below the kids who were going to Harvard and NYU.

High school was fun, but not because of the learning like elementary school was. Academically, my peers and I were sorting and selecting ourselves, comparing ourselves, beating ourselves and each other up for a percentage point here, a plus or minus there. Of course, this was in order to position ourselves to get into schools that based admissions decisions on an equally flawed system.

I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life, but one is that for a few years I lost sight of the purpose of education, which, according to MLK Jr, is: “Intelligence plus character.” I think I ignored the latter, and I am convinced this would not have happened had assessment and grading looked more like elementary school.

Which is why I am so convicted in the standards-based grading system here in South Redford. Yes, it’s going to be messy. It is/will causing/cause consternation for students, parents, teachers, administrators, admissions counselors, and pretty much everyone else steeped in the antiquated industrial model of education. But if the result is high school kids excited about learning, embracing struggle, collaborating instead of competing, it will have been worth it.

Imagine if dinner table questions like: “How many points is this worth?” ‘How can you get your grade up?’ ‘What assignments are you missing?’ became ‘What did you learn today?,’ “What great question did you ask today?,’ “What concept did you struggle with today,’ or ‘What improvement did you make today?”

I can only hope that when my boys transition out of elementary school, their district will have shown the courage to shift their grading philosophy. If not, perhaps Sam and James will be up for the commute from Ann Arbor to Redford.


Daniela (Thurston '15, U of M Dearborn '20) joined me and the seniors for a Q & A for the inaugural Eagle Scholars Podcast.

For Episode 2 the seniors and I sat down with one of the hardest-working, most conscientious students I've ever had. Among other topics, Daniela shares invaluable advice about how to do well in college, the realities of the commuter student, and how to navigate living with your parents when you're actually an adult.

Check out the podcast below!

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Thurston Updates

Important Dates:

subscribe to the calendar here

2/9: Free SAT test 2 at the Redford Library. Register here.

3/23: Free SAT test 3 at the Redford Library. Register here.

3/28-3/29: Hope College overnight visit (Juniors only)

4/9: SAT (Juniors only)

4/11: Albion College visit (Juniors only)

5/23: Honors Dinner

5/30: Kalamazoo College visit (Juniors only)

5/30: Honors Night

6/3: Eagle Scholars Program Orientation

6/3: AP Kickoff night

Acceptance letters are rolling in for our seniors from Howard University, U of M Ann Arbor, Michigan State, Leiden, Wayne State, EMU, CMU, Northern Michigan, University of Findlay, Ohio Northern, and others. Still waiting to hear from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Stanford, Boston University, New York University, Kalamazoo College, Hope College, and The University of Chicago.

The Eagle Scholars Award application will be available in February for qualifying seniors. Last year we disbursed over $2000.

Students not meeting requirements for the program will be receiving probation or dismissal letters within the next week.

Juniors and Seniors will now be reporting to the media center for Advisory on Mondays.

You/your child should be thinking about what AP course(s) to take next year. AP courses for 10th graders: AP Government, AP Psychology, AP World History. Remember that all students must take AP Lang in either 11th or 12th grade.

Thursday study sessions are now in the cafeteria (2:45 - 3:45) Pizza is provided for $1 per slice.

Tutoring is now running Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the Media Center. Check in with Ms. Radecki or Ms. Thomas to connect with a tutor (or a tutee).

dents meet once a week at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Talk to Spencer K. for more details.


100% of proceeds go toward Eagle Scholars Award winners' college education. These are students who have gone above and beyond the requirements of the program. This is a tax-deductible donation.

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Pierce Updates

6th Grade ESP

Scholars recently began their semester-long Social Studies Program, Place Out Of Time. This project brings together multiple middle schools and students at the University of Michigan. Our scholars will assume the identity of a historical character (real or fictional) and respond to a series of different legal and philosophical scenarios. The project ends with a conference in April at U of M Ann Arbor to meet the other participants and decide an Italian Supreme Court Case. The Eagle Scholars Program is honored to have been invited to participate in this project and conference for the third year in a row!

Parents: please check in with your scholar and their progress with No Red Ink. The scholars are given weekly assignments that need to be completed independently throughout the week. Please stay tuned for an email explaining the fine details of the program from your scholar's language arts teacher.

7th Grade ESP

7th-grade scholars are in the midst of reading "The Monkey's Paw." This is part of their unit on short stories. This specific story will help students demonstrate their ability to cite and accurately identify textual evidence.

8th Grade ESP

8th-grade scholars will have the opportunity to participate in much-anticipated Shadow Days. These are informal half days spent to at Thurston with current Eagle Scholars. Thec8th-grade scholars will have the chance to attend classes, meet future teachers, enjoy lunch, and have all their questions answered by current students. These Shadow Days are slated 2/20, 2/27, 3/6. Every effort will be made to make sure each scholar has the chance to attend!

General ESP

Many Eagle Scholars have recently started new clubs and projects as part of their NJHS membership. These clubs and projects are designed to bring Pierce students and the Redford Community together. Some of the projects underway include a courtyard beautification month (planned for the spring), autism and mental health awareness week, and a school-wide 1 to 1 tutoring program. Some of the new clubs led by Eagle Scholars are the Musical Theatre Appreciation Club, the Anime Club, and SAGA. The Eagle Scholars Program is glad to see so many scholars stepping up to make Pierce an even greater place!

Students from TongShengHu International School in China have arrived! Many of the Eagle Scholars are serving as ambassadors and host families for the new students. While they are here, the Chinese students get to experience life and school as an American student! So far everyone is having a wonderful time!

The first semester ended on January 25, 2019. Students who have not met the requirements of the Eagle Scholars Program will meet with Mr. Parsons and discuss their performance. Together they will develop a plan for how to move forward.

"A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials." --Seneca

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