Coasting to high school Gonzales middle school students get promoted with few requirements

By Danielle Javier

Eighth-grade students in Fairview Middle School in Gonzales need few requirements to be promoted to high school, yet they do need to pass hurdles to be able to participate in end-of-the year activities.

Asked about the promotion ceremony of the Class of 2019, Sonia Jaramillo, Gonzales Unified School Board President, said, “The report we were getting was high in the beginning, (that) 140 students were promoted… (and) 35 students were questioned. At the end, five (students) didn’t walk.” She said the five were held back mainly because of their grades, “having a C or less and also their behavior.”

Because 8th grade is their last year at Fairview, students celebrate by attending end-of-the-year activities, including a trip, a ceremony and a dance. There are requirements to be able to participate in these events, including consistent attendance and a good grade point average (GPA).

To participate in the class trip, attendance should be 95 percent  in students’ 8th grade year, and their suspension days should not exceed five. However, their promotion ceremony and dance have more requirements than the trip. They should also have a minimum GPA of 2.0 throughout their 6th, 7th, and 8th grade years. Their attendance must be similar to the trip requirement, which is 95 percent. However, their suspension days should not be more than 10.

Amazingly, there don’t seem to be many requirements to be promoted from 8th grade to 9th grade. Students who don’t pass the criteria listed above are not able to partake in the activities — yet they will still be promoted to high school.

Jaramillo explained that the biggest problem in the Gonzales Unified District is the academic gap. “There are 20 percent of the students who have a 4.0 (GPA) with A+, while the other 80 percent have very low grades because they live in poverty, they are homeless, or they are low income.”

Some youths are involved in decision making in Gonzales, and they’re known as the Gonzales Youth Council. Their leaders are called Youth Commissioners, and Madisyn Schweitzer is one of them. “I believe to promote 8th graders, they must have at least a decent GPA,” Schweitzer said. “What’s considered a decent GPA would be up to the school board.” She suggests other requirements might include “involvement in school and their community… a good record of what they have done in the past and a high school entrance test.”

Schweitzer added that 8th graders should be held back if they don’t meet such requirements because if the students enter high school and take intermediate classes, their education will be rushed and it won’t help them prepare for college. She believes education depends on the motivation of the students and their parents. Youth Commissioners, she said, can only encourage the behavior, but having the students follow through is a challenge.

Jaramillo said that 200 families in the district are homeless, which is one of the big factors behind the students’ low GPA. There are public services for homeless families that can help their children improve their education, she added.

Jaramillo also mentioned that the 8th grade class of 2019 is doing better in state testing compared to previous years, which is the goal of the district. They also want to hire more counselors for the school due to numerous students misbehaving during school hours.  If students are not determined to learn, Jaamillo said, the school would like to know how they can motivate that child.

According to Jaramillo, “You can’t retain any students. It has to be a big academic issue.” Holding them back would damage them more than being promoted because those students are likely to get bullied, said Jaramillo. A student will only be held back if they came into the school year late or officials believe they need another year to keep up with the same grade. Once the student is promoted, more opportunities will be given to improve their education, she said, such as after-school programs, one-on-one tutoring, or counseling.

Young Voices

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Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported in 2019 by the Clare Giannini Fund.