Many people commented on the rights of school children and teachers, which ran here recently, but no one did it better than 25 sixth-graders at a Bethesda school. A sampling:
"The rules you printed were very nice and I wish the Board of Education felt the same way. Here is a rule of my own: Kids should have facilities to sleep on. At least if we didn't get them all the time, they should be available on Mondays and Fridays, when we would want them the most. With your rules and mine, school might be fantastic!"
"I think another right should be a central cooling system so kids won't boil to death. I think it is important because kids are boiling to death!"
"I agree completely on all of the rights except teachers shouldn't think that kids go to school because they want to learn. Some days I do, somedays not. Most times not."
"I think kids should learn by experimenting, instead of memorizing, and have debates in the classroom with the teacher trying to disagree with both sides to provoke more conversation."
This writer also was concerned about his lunches, as were all of his classmates:
"Kids should be able to eat food, instead of the glop they serve now."
"We really need better and bigger school lunches."
"I don't know what our lunches are made of, but they sure don't taste normal."
"I think we should have a real cook cooking the food at school."
Many students wanted not only better lunches but food without additives or preservatives.
"I agree with the kids' right to have a vending machine for juice and natural foods in the cafeteria. We don't even have a cafeteria."
"We don't even have a vending machine."
The need for clean, well-supplied bathrooms was noted in almost every letter.
"I know it's hard to keep bathrooms clean, but I think the Board of Education should do something about ours."
"I think the custodians should check the bathrooms and/or clean them every 2-3 days. Most of them smell bad in my school and don't have toilet paper."
Some students wanted a better, bigger, safer playground and one said, "I think all classrooms should be equipped with a soccerball, basketball and rubberball for outdoor games."
Another said, "I think we should have at least two periods of physical education and art," and several were strong for more field trips.
And then there were the basic human rights that every child cared about.
"I am glad you wrote about children's rights because I am deprived of some of the rights in your article. You forgot one rule: Kids should not be bossed around by teachers but have open discussions where the teacher can comment."
"A child has the right to her own views on any subject without influence of any teacher, adult or parent."
"Your list brought some rights into this classroom!"
"I like the right about kids needing respect from the teacher, so they can respect her. That's here already."
A. Thanks, kids, for the additions -- and now some questions for you:
What are you doing to make some changes at school?
Teachers and principals and the Board of Education are supposed to make school as interesting and pleasant as possible, but kids have a responsiblity, too.
Do you suggest interesting field trips? Do you have bake sales to pay for them? Find chaperones to go with you?
Does anyone in the class have an extra ball to donate for the year?
It's hard to make changes about food to suit the tastes and appetites of everyone, but if you think the food is glop, isn't it time to ask the Board of Education in for lunch? Paid contractors supply your food in exchange for your parents' tax dollars. A little interest from the people who write the checks might inspire better cooking.
Bathrooms -- a horror at most schools -- can get better, too, if you take the initiative.
Have you talked with your parents about them? The P-TA is supposed to run interference for the kids. And do each of you know that you should throw away not only your own paper towel but any others that are dropped? And that you flush for someone who has forgotten? By the sixth grade you're old enough to take responsibility, not just for yourselves but for younger children, too. Do it willingly and they'll want to imitate you.
If the bathrooms really bother you, your class can assign a boy and a girl each week to check them once or twice a day. They can tell the office if attention or supplies are needed, or hang a special flag on the bathroom doors so the custodian knows.
Sometimes kids forget how important they are -- in personal as well as practical ways -- and how much they can do to make things work better.
Montgomery County psychologist Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written three dandy books to help you understand how much you can do to help others, and in the process, help yourselves. Look for them in your library or bookstore: Getting Along With Your Family ($5.50); Getting Along With Your Friends ($6.95), and Getting Along With Your Teachers ($7.50), all published by Abingdon Press. Our sixth-grade reviewer liked them a lot.