New faces, same places: Frequent moves challenge students, schools

Fifth-grader doesn’t let frequent moves stop her A’s

The Chattanooga Times Free Press, Sunday, April 8, 2007

On the floor of her dimly lit living room, Acquanitta Keith thumbed through a gray plastic box containing school registration papers, report cards and award certificates of her two school-age children. Her oldest daughter, Anamesha Hollins, now a fifth-grader at East Lake Elementary, has attended seven schools since kindergarten: four in Chattanooga, three in Knoxville.

The crumpled report cards Ms. Keith dug from the box show her daughter has earned good grades, mostly A’s, from all the schools she has attended.

“Anamesha’s teacher told me if Anamesha keeps going the way she’s going, she’ll be eligible for a Tennessee scholarship,” Ms. Keith said. “Anamesha’s determined to do well because of the mess-ups I go through.”

Anamesha was born in Chattanooga but moved back and forth from Knoxville several times as her mother checked into various halfway houses for help with alcoholism. The family moves around within Chattanooga, as well, whenever Ms. Keith thinks the neighborhood has gotten too dangerous. Here, Anamesha has attended Mary Ann Garber, Hardy, Clifton Hills and East Lake elementary schools.

Ms. Keith said she is not sure where the family will live next year.

Anamesha spent part of Friday in her family’s duplex watching “Dora the Explorer” on television with her two younger siblings. When the ice cream and snack truck, blaring “Do Your Ears Hang Low,” pulled to a stop in front of her home though, the lanky 11- year-old grabbed a dollar from her mother and ran outside to buy Fruit Snacks, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and an apple Now and Later.

Anamesha said she loves making up dances and cheers with her friends during free time but that she also loves school, especially math class.

“Most of the time, when I don’t get to go to school, I get mad,” she said. “I don’t like missing it.”

She recounted experiments she’s done in class this year, such as submerging M&M’s in water to see whether the candy shell dissolved and the M disappeared (it did).

“I like being able to do experiments and eat sweet things,” she said.

Though transitioning from school to school can be hard, Anamesha said doing well in her classes is important to her.

“I try to get good grades because if I do, my mama and daddy will be happy for me,” she said. The owner of the Okie Dokie Mart on Roanoke Avenue also gives her $5 if she shows him good report cards, she said.

Anamesha said she’s had plenty of encouragement from her teachers at East Lake this year.

“My teacher tells me I can do good — Don’t let anybody mess me up with my smartness or my grades,” she said.

New faces, same places: Frequent moves challenge students, schools

The Chattanooga Times Free Press, Sunday, April 8, 2007
Main story

Samantha Walter keeps the class rules posted in large letters by the pencil sharpener in her East Lake Elementary classroom so students who arrive midyear know right off how to behave.
The list has come in handy — so far this year, 13 fifth-graders have moved into or out of Ms. Walter’s 14-student class. Only eight have been there since August.

Having 13 come and go is major,” said Ms. Walter, a 48-year-old literacy specialist who has taught for 25 years. “When you’re having that much movement, it really does affect the personality of your room.”

Overall, 9,259 Hamilton County Schools students, or 31 percent, have moved into or out of schools this year, records show. Most of the moves have been from one school to another within the Hamilton County system. School administrators identified 500 students as homeless, or those who live in hotels, shelters or share a home with another family on a temporary basis.

“Usually, mobility is tied to economics,” said Associate Superintendent Ray Swoffard. Most times, he said, families don’t move by choice. They move because their financial situation forces them to, he said.
Schools with the highest student mobility rates generally are in low-income areas and have the highest number of students eligible for the free and reduced- price lunch program, school and state records show.

As teachers across Hamilton County drill their students in preparation for the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test they will take April 16-27, many said they’re worried about the effect of mobility on student scores.

Educators agree that constant movement negatively affects student academic performance and can lower school’s test scores, which determine a school’s academic standing under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

East Lake Elementary has the highest mobility rate, with nearly 53 percent of students moving into or out of the school this year. Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts has the lowest rate, with about 10 percent of students moving this year.

East Lake principal Neelie Parker said the constant movement within her school, located near Dodds Avenue, creates challenges she and her teachers work every day to overcome.

“You’re constantly looking at a new group of children,” she said. Ms. Parker said she’s considering a second open house next year to catch the parents whose children arrive midyear.

Ms. Parker said she’s considering a second open house next year to catch the parents whose children arrive midyear.


On Monday afternoon, Ms. Walter asked the students in her class to define the words “vicious,” “jeopardy,” “instinctive” and “clench” from a story they read about a boy crossing an imaginary course filled with lava pits and snakes.

“Show me what you do when you clench your teeth,” she said, clenching her own. Sitting at their desks, the students in her class tightened their jaws and felt the muscles with their fingers.

Ms. Walter said she tries not to interrupt her classroom’s schedule when new students arrive, but the newcomers often have gaps in learning from miss- ing school or from coming from a class that learned at a different speed.

“You’re always having to adjust the pace of academics,” Ms. Walter said. “You can’t stop to reteach, but there is that hesi- tation to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

New students often affect those who have been with her all year, she said, “because it breaks their focus for a time.”

Michael Jones, an 11-year- old who has attended East Lake since kindergarten, says new students sometimes disrupt the class.

“If we’re doing math stuff, when a new student comes, we’ve got to do it again,” he said.

Sherrod Shepherd, 12, attended Mary Ann Garber, Hardy, Lakeside and Woodside elementary schools before arriving at Ms. Walter’s class at East Lake this year.

Sherrod had trouble making friends at East Lake, and when he runs into his old friends at the movies, skating rink or Wal-Mart, he feels different around them because they have other friends now.

“I knew everybody at my old school and had a group of people who knew me. On the bus, everybody knew my name,” he said. “Now, only one (student) knows my name.”

Michael said his classmates are sometimes mean to new students in Ms. Walter’s room, especially if they’re boys. He figures they do it to “show them they’re tough or something.”

Many times, however, students welcome their new classmates. Third-grader Marissa Metcalf moved to East Ridge Elementary School a few weeks ago after attending Barger Academy of Fine Arts since kindergarten. She remembers hiding behind her grandmother because everyone was looking at her as she entered her new classroom for the first time.

“They shouted, ‘Yay! It’s a girl,’” the 10-year-old said of her classmates, whom she’s since befriended. “Everyone’s my friend in the classroom.”

Always being new, though, is hard on students because they’re always having to establish who they are and what they’re like and make new friends, Ms. Walter said.

“It does make it hard for them to academically shine,” she said.


Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools are held responsible only for the test scores of the students in their classrooms on the 20th day of the school year. Students who move to another school in the district after the 20th day count toward the district’s score, but not any school’s. Students who move in from a school outside the district after the 20th day do not count for the district or school.

Because only eight of Ms. Walter’s 14 students were in her room on the 20th day, only their scores will count.

“When you have only eight students, it doesn’t take but two children who miss (a passing score) by one question for you not to make adequate yearly progress,” she said. “Since we’re dealing with such a small number of children, there’s no wiggle room for the children not to get there.”

Educators worry about how their students will affect their school’s performance and the district’s standing under No Child Left Behind, said Sharon Watts, principal of East Ridge Elementary School, where the mobility rate is 46 percent.

“We’re always thinking TCAP (test), so when we get a new student, especially in third, fourth or fifth grade, we’re concerned how that will affect us,” Ms. Watts said. “If they’re behind, we need to work with them to get them up to grade level.”

Dr. Russell Rumberger, a professor of education at the University of California Santa Barbara, said some mobility is normal and does not harm student achievement. But chronic mobility, three or more school changes, has been shown to have negative effects on student performance, he said.

“Instability is bad for kids, no matter where it occurs,” he said. “Family instability and school instability often are related.

“Chronic moving seems to be associated with low achievement in elementary schools,” he said, but there also are lots of studies that show mobility is a risk factor for dropping out of school, too.

Education leaders have long been aware of problems created by student mobility, but just recently they began encouraging districts to address the issue, said Julie McCargar, executive director of federal programs with the Tennessee Department of Education.

“Schools and districts were thinking there was not a lot they could do about it — it was out- side their realm of influence,” Dr. McCargar said. “What’s starting to happen is the idea there might be some strategies we can put in place to ameliorate the problem.”

Addressing mobility might cut to the root of low test scores in ways that other strategies — such as training teachers more or extending the school day — cannot, she said.

Schools Superintendent Jim Scales said that while the Hamil- ton County school system traditionally has not tracked student mobility, it’s time to evaluate whether student churn is affecting school performance.

“Mobility is an issue for us,” he said. “It’s probably one of these issues that will start to come to the forefront more and more as we move along. The message needs to get out that students are better off when they stay at the same school for the full year.”


While school officials realize there’s not much they can do to stop students from moving, they are working to lessen the negative effects of mobility.

Over the last few years, the schools have standardized the district’s math and literacy curriculums, especially at the elementary level, so students receive the same type of instruction in East Ridge, Brainerd or Soddy-Daisy and do not feel as disoriented when moving from one school to another.

The eight urban elementary schools that participated in the reform initiative funded by the Benwood Foundation have proven especially successful at standardizing their curriculums, said Bruce Wilson, a New Jersey-based researcher who evaluates school reform efforts across the nation.

“If students move from one Benwood school to another, they’re reasonably likely to experience a very similar class- room situation,” Dr. Wilson said. “It’s less difficult than the situation where kids are totally at the whim of what the individual teacher or school may be doing.”

Dr. McCargar said she recommends that schools consider allowing open enrollment in the schools that frequently trade students with one another. That way, even if students move, they remain at the same school. Dr. Scales said selective open enrollment would be “a conversation worth having.”

At East Lake Elementary, Ms. Parker said she does her best to provide teachers with extra instructional support so they do not feel they have to handle the effects of turnover by themselves.

Like many other high-mobility schools, East Lake has six literacy interventionists who work with students in small groups for an hour each day. The school also employs a family partnership specialist who tries to engage parents in the life of the school.

Though turnover is especially high at East Lake, the staff there does not view it as anything out of the ordinary, Ms. Parker said.

“I can’t sit here as a principal and say I fret over this statistic about our school,” she said. “We just do what we have to do.”

New classmate trying to adjust, make friends

The Chattanooga Times Free Press, Sunday, April 8, 2007

Sherrod Shepherd rested his cheek on his right hand and picked at a stack of papers with his left as teacher Samantha Walter read his class a story last week.

The fifth-grader, who wore the school’s required navy collared shirt, is new to East Lake Elementary this year. He said he’s having some trouble adjusting to the school.

“You have best friends, and when you move, you lose touch with them,” he said. “When you go back to see them, they have new friends, and you don’t feel right around them.”

Being the new kid is nothing new to Sherrod, however. He was new to Woodmore Elementary as a third-grader, Hardy Elementary as a first-grader and Garber Elementary as a kindergartner.

His father, Gerrod Shepherd, who works as a laborer for Burt’s Construction, said other than the social troubles this year, Sherrod usually adjusts to the change well.

“I just tell him to just be him. That’s all he can do,” Mr. Shepherd said. “He can’t really be upset because you don’t have friends. It’s something we try to work through.”

Mr. Shepherd said most of his son’s friends are in the Brainerd area, where the rest of their family lives.

Sherrod said he has one friend at East Lake, a boy named Freddy, whom he has known since kindergarten. He and Freddy play basketball and video games together and enjoy climbing trees, he said.

Mr. Shepherd said he and his family plan to move again this summer, back to Brainerd, where Sherrod will attend Dalewood Middle.

“Once we move to where we’re moving to, we’ll be there probably until he comes out of school,” he said.

When it came time to define vocabulary words from the story in Ms. Walter’s class, Sherrod headed his paper with his name, the date and the assignment title and printed the words on every other line with a green mechanical pencil.

“Resist,” “obstruction,” “fanciful,” he wrote, and saved spaces for the definitions.

Shy student learns to fit in

The Chattanooga Times Free Press, Sunday, April 8, 2007

East Ridge Elementary School teacher Tony Stokes asked his third-graders to interpret a meteorological map of the western United States last week.

“What kind of weather is Texas having?” inquired Mr. Stokes from a stool at the front of the room.

“Sunny!” the students chimed in unison from their desks.

“What’s the weather like in South Dakota?” Mr. Stokes asked. “Partly cloudy!” the students said.

Ricardo Long, one of the 19 students in the classroom, said he arrived at East Ridge Elementary this year. The third-grader was born in South Carolina and has attended East Brainerd Elementary; Graysville Elementary School in Catoosa County, Ga.; and East Ridge Elementary.

“It’s not really that much fun (to move) because you keep having to make friends,” said Ricardo, who describes himself as a shy person. “You keep having to move your stuff and put it in different rooms.”

Mr. Stokes said his class has received three new students since the school year started, and Ricardo, like the rest, has adjusted easily.

“The kids I’ve gotten have just jumped in. You turn around, and they’ve made friends,” he said. “I haven’t had any problems with adjustment.”