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Report on my visit to Utopia Middle School

The school is quiet. Even during class changes the halls buzz only with a sense of purpose.

Civility is important here. The teachers wear coats and ties or business dress. The students wear uniforms and are addressed by last names, with a Miss or Mr. attached. Class discussions on current events and school issues are serious but cordial. Disruptive behavior is rare.

Grades and important and well earned. Students who earn an A have something to be proud of, and students who earn an F are counseled, but the grade stands. No do-overs.

The school and individual teachers set standards above state guidelines and work with students to meet those standards. All teachers are required to remain in their classroom for 40 minutes after school to offer informal tutoring. Behavior in class that compromises the individual’s ability to learn or another’s ability to learn is not tolerated. The parent of any student sent to detention is immediately notified.

With classroom discipline comes efficiency. Because classroom time is better used, teachers, recognizing the need for this age group to socialize, are able to grant conversation time at their discretion.

All students are required to submit plans for independent study. One period a day is allowed for these projects (Students are required to keep a log.). Projects range from robotics to volunteering in the community or as peer tutors.

Student government has real power and is responsible for planning school events. In general, anything that can be done by students instead of teachers is assigned that way. One student representative from each grade meets privately once a week with the school principal. Responsibility is taught by entrusting students.

Utopia Middle School is a candy-, cellphone- and soda-free zone. Students are not rewarded with pizza parties or movies. Grades and satisfaction are the primary awards at the school, however the school recognizes we live in a competitive world and not every student deserves a blue ribbon. Excellence is rewarded, but mediocrity is not rewarded or even accepted.

All sports are informal and intramural. All students are welcome regardless of ability. Student leaders organize and supervise the games. They are paid for their times. In addition to sports, after-school activities include chess club, drama, music, a writers’ collective, strength training and conditioning, ski club, science club, advanced computer skills, and activities proposed by students, including field trips.

All students are required to touch type, print clearly and be able to answer essay questions in cursive. All students are required to read one book a week and post a brief review on the school’s chat room. All students are expected to complete one hour of homework a day in addition to reading time. All parents are expected to hold their children responsible for being civil and hardworking.

On my visit to the school I met with students. They were polite, well spoken and forthright in their opinions. Their happiness and sense of purpose was a delight. Teacher and staff morale is off the charts.

Way to go, Utopia!

Warren Carlson lives in Medford.

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