Pioneer film fundraiser  on Thursday

Documentary on pressures put on nation’s students

NORTHFIELD — Pioneer Valley Regional School students hope to raise awareness as well as money with a film screening Thursday night.

“Race to Nowhere,” a documentary examining the demands placed on the nation’s students, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Pioneer auditorium. Tickets are $5 for area students and faculty, and $10 for the general public.

Organized by eighth-grade students Ameilia Pelletier and Elizabeth “Bizzy” Sweeney, who last fall started a petition to reexamine the effectiveness of homework, the screening will serve as a fundraiser for the eighth grade’s end-of-year trip.

Their destination is yet to be determined, but Principal William Wehrli said the end-of-year excursion is usually more about recreation than education.

The trip serves as one last class-wide get-together before the school’s 108 eighth-grade students go their separate ways.

“In years past, they’ve gone to places like Six Flags or Lake Compounce.”

But before they head off for the roller coasters and water slides, there’s plenty of work to be done, and a whole semester to get through.

Pelletier said she’s already seen the petition’s effect, albeit in small ways.

“There has been some discussion among the teachers so far, but as time passes and the petition is further looked into, there is expected to be more,” she said. The petition she and Sweeney started garnered more than 400 signatures by the time it was submitted to the school’s administration.

“I think the teachers have been taking a little bit closer look at how much homework they assign at once, but it’s not too much of a change.”

One problem with homework, she previously said, was that all too often, several assignments or big projects would be due at the same time, causing students to scramble to get everything done.

Pelletier said that kind of lopsided workload detracts from more than students’ grades, a point she thinks is illustrated in “Race to Nowhere.”

“(The documentary) highlights the unintended consequences of our ‘pressure-cooker’ culture and education system,” she said. “The film challenges certain assumptions about how to best prepare our children for the future.”

She and Sweeney hope the screening, like their petition, will spur discussion on the value of homework at Pioneer and other schools.

Rather than resistance from the administration and faculty, Pelletier said the petition has been met with open minds and support, once they realized the students weren’t trying to get rid of homework altogether.

“(Principal Wehrli) seems to agree that it’s a topic that needs to be addressed,” she said.

Shortly after the petition began making its rounds, Wehrli and several PVRS teachers told The Recorder they thought it was worth taking a look into the way homework is assigned.

Once the second semester is under way, Wehrli hopes to resume the homework discussion.

“After the change of the semester, we’re hoping to get back together with the student middle school advisory representatives, to meet and talk about homework,” said Wehrli. “The school council has also talked about it, and identified some next steps.”

He said one idea is for students to do a “time sample,” to examine how they’re spending their out-of-school time, and what portion of it is filled with homework.

“Students have all kinds of experiences (with their workload),” ranging from those who are struggling to get by to those who don’t feel they’re being challenged, said Wehrli.

“I understand the film focuses on one particular experience, that of high-achieving kids who have a lot on their plates,” he said.

To find a workable solution, he said, all manner of students must be considered.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. We want to make sure we’re looking at all student experiences.”

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