Letters From the Issue of Thursday, July 13, 2006

Bring on the Flunk

Life skills lacking: I'm glad that you took on the unhappy task of pointing out that giving things away to poor kids may not be the right thing to do ("Flunk'd," Sarah Fenske, June 29). The Thomas J. Pappas School does what it sets out to do, but it may need to rethink its purpose.

I have volunteered as a mentor for the past eight years for organizations that worked with homeless families. During that time, I worked one-on-one with six different children. Four of them went to Pappas. I first thought the idea of Pappas was good, until (upon talking to the children) it sounded like school, to them, was going on field trips, receiving clothes. Learning and being challenged didn't seem to much enter into the picture.

Where Pappas does great harm to children is giving them and their families things as a reward for being poor. What such families truly need are life-skills lessons. Most end up being homeless because a parent or parents create families without fully grasping the adult duties of running a household. Most cannot understand the basics of budgeting money.

I noticed that the children treated the clothing, coats and toys that they received at Pappas poorly. The attitude was if something breaks (if the coat gets lost or filthy) a replacement will be provided.

I think that Pappas teaches children there's no need to try hard. It's too bad, because I do think it's good if children can get food and medical care through the school. But, educationally, Pappas' curriculum centers on working the system. I point to the section of your article that notes how enrollment surges at Christmastime when donated Wal-Mart cards are handed out.
Bruce Kingfield, Phoenix

Don't be swayed by facts: I have worked at the Pappas school for more than eight years now, and I would like to respond to some comments made in the "Flunk'd" article.

You say: "What [students] can't get is much of an education." First, I'd like to know where your sources come from?! Have you personally reviewed Pappas' test scores? And can you really compare the test scores of kids living in crisis (some only coming to school a few times a week) to the test scores of children in other school districts?

You say: "Academically, the kids at Pappas do a whole lot worse." Again, I challenge your sources of information, and I believe you are sorely incorrect.

I also want to comment on what the judge ruled (I was personally in court). The judge ruled in favor of Pappas remaining open because no one, not even the county Board of Supervisors, has the legal authority to close down any regional school district. The supervisors clearly overstepped their bounds. Sandra Dowling, as the county Superintendent of Schools, has the legal authority to open "accommodation" schools in the Maricopa County Regional School District, as she has done. And thank God for the special services these schools provide!

I realize that there are some current and future financial challenges for our district, but that doesn't mean we can't move ahead and move up from this point on. Sandra Dowling and politics should be kept aside from our kids and their school. Our kids are being educated well, and they are receiving other much-needed services that assure they perform better in the classroom.

Do we meet all of our students' needs, and then some? You have no idea. Have you interviewed Pappas students who not only graduated from Pappas, but went on to graduate from Arizona State University?

Bottom line: Get our side of the story before expressing any more of your opinions. And leave our kids alone!
Name withheld by request

Separate is not equal: I am appalled by what I read in New Times concerning the Thomas J. Pappas School. It seems clear that the primary goal of a school, any school, is how well it is educating its students. And by any measure, even its own, Pappas is failing its students.

One of the selling points of the No Child Left Behind Act was that — given high expectations, rigorous testing and personalized academic intervention to address what these tests tell us — all children can experience academic success. Conservative educational experts told us that these standards would ensure that all children receive a high-quality education. If this is so, then why do we allow Sandra Dowling, the educational leader of our county schools, to continue to work if she truly feels that the students she teaches "cannot compete and never will compete with [those in] other schools"?

Twelve decades ago, women were not allowed to participate fully in American public schools. Six decades ago, blacks were told that being in separate schools was better for them because they would not be subject to teasing or taunting. Three decades ago, children who were disabled, blind or dealing with cerebral palsy were told it was for their own good that they weren't allowed in "normal" classrooms.