HYATTSVILLE – Hyattsville Middle School students, parents and alumni continue to fight for the full reinstatement of the school’s creative writing major after Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) announced the tract would no longer be available after the 2017-2018 school year. Earlier this month students and parents raised concerns when they were not able […]
HYATTSVILLE – Hyattsville Middle School students, parents and alumni continue to fight for the full reinstatement of the school’s creative writing major after Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) announced the tract would no longer be available after the 2017-2018 school year.
Earlier this month students and parents raised concerns when they were not able to sign their sixth grade students up for the creative writing major, which is offered to seventh and eighth grade students at the school. The school community held a meeting on Jan. 10 with representatives from the PGCPS arts integration office to talk about why the program was cancelled.
“The creative writing major has been successful at Hyattsville Middle School. Not only have the students achieved awards and honors, but it’s actually seamlessly integrated into the rest of the program. It works hand in hand,” said Seiji Hayashi, the president of the Parent Teacher Student Organization at Hyattsville Middle at a Jan. 19 board of education meeting. “Please don’t try to fix something that’s not broken.”
At the Jan. 10 meeting, school representatives explained the state, which sets standards for the creative and performing arts programs, does not recognize creative writing as a major in creative and performing arts academies and programs.
This explanation is similar to the one sent home to parents of Hyattsville Middle in a letter dated Jan. 18 from John Ceschini, who is an arts integration officer.
“As stated during the meeting, the Maryland State Department of Education does not recognize creative writing as a fine arts major. Hyattsville Middle School is the only school in Prince George’s County that continues to offer this course of study as a fine arts major,” he wrote.
Raven Hill, a spokesperson for the school system, said creative writing is unlike other CPA classes such as dance, theatre, media arts and TV production in that Hyattsville Middle hosts the only creative writing major in the county and the major has not expanded in 10 years.
“The enrollment has always been between 18 and 22 students,” she said. “It has never gone below 18 or above 25 and it hasn’t expanded to other schools.”
However, students and parents alike felt PGCPS’s explanation left many questions unanswered, and representatives from the school community started a write-in campaign and showed up in force at the Jan. 19 board of education meeting to demand answers and ask that the major stay at the middle school.
“The lack of the program and the lack of any parent involvement in the decisionmaking has questioned the trust we had in the school system administration and whether we made the right decision even to continue in the school system,” said Sean Helfrich, who has a daughter wishing to attend the creative writing program in future years.
Just a day before the meeting, in the same Jan. 18 letter, Ceschini announced the major would extend for another year to accommodate current sixth grade students at the school and then would be phased out with those students. Ceschini wrote, however, that creative writing would be offered as an elective for all subsequent years.
Hill further emphasized that no students currently in the program would be removed from the major or directed back to their neighborhood schools.
“By following this structure, it allows us to ensure consistency across all of our CPA programs, comply with requirements established by the Maryland State Department of Education and address the concerns of Hyattsville Middle School parents concerning proper notification of the change of course status,” Ceschini said.
Juwan Blocker, the student member of the board of education and alumnus of the Hyattsville Middle creative writing program, however believes more answers are warranted about the cancellation of the program and moved to hear an update at the Jan. 19 board meeting.
“As the student rep of those students who are in Hyattsville, I would just like to let the parents and the students know that I have heard their voices and concerns,” he said. “I’m very disappointed to hear that we would even been considering cutting a program like this that has been very beneficial.”
That motion failed four to seven as multiple members of the board said they needed more information. The board member who represents the Hyattsville area, Dinora Hernandez, was not present at the meeting.
“We agreed that we would have this discussion item on a future board meeting, but also that we wanted more information to ensure that discussion was more well informed,” Boardmember Curtis Valentine said.
Since then, Blocker started an online petition to ask Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS, to reinstate the program at the middle school rather than offer it as an elective, stating that the elective course would “water down” the critical thinking process of the class.
This sentiment was similar to one expressed by Orla Collins, an eighth grade student in the creative writing major, who said the students would not accept an elective in place of their “unique program.”
“We are not taught to write creatively in English or any other class, yet we are expected to have these skills. It therefore seems unreasonable to take away a program that teaches those skills for much more than reasons of continuity among schools,” she said. “I’m very proud to be a part of a program that is not offered anywhere else in the county.”