Classes with wide range of ages far from unsafe

When atrocity strikes and a crime exposes the potential for darkness in humanity, we are inclined to blame an outside factor for what happened. We scapegoat in order to process reality; instead of simple evil, our community was merely a victim of political correctness or irresponsible policy.
But, as it did when the disturbing rape at Rockville High School elicited outrage over the presence of seniors in freshman classes, this scapegoating only prevents us from confronting the most dangerous social ills head-on. Anger over the rape itself and the culture and atmosphere that allowed it to happen is justifiable. Classes that pair older and younger students, on the other hand, are far from unsafe and can offer key benefits to students who choose to take them.
In my personal experience, I took multiple classes in my freshman year that contained upperclassmen, and at no point felt uncomfortable with the policy allowing it. My Theater 1 class, for instance, was made up of a relatively even mix of the four grades, and I felt more welcomed and comfortable with some of the seniors than some of the underclassmen. My interactions with others were a matter of personality, not an oversimplified notion of the “freshman” and “senior” dynamic.
In my AP NSL class, too, I benefited from the presence of a few upperclassmen in the room. These juniors and seniors made insightful points that opened my mind to new ideas, and engaged in more mature and nuanced socialization than I would have been able to observe had I only spoken with other freshmen.
Although there are surely some underclassmen who are intimidated by talking to seniors, I have never spoken with any high school student who expressed inherent discomfort with mixing the grades in classes. There are certainly freshmen who encounter manipulative or predatory seniors who may take advantage of their relative inexperience, but in those cases, the issue is one of basic respect for others, a value that transcends age, not who was placed in a room with them to learn. Freshmen are likely to become friendly with seniors anyway — either through chatting in the halls or age-inclusive extracurricular activities — and should not be restricted from meeting them, especially during the most supervised and regimented portion of the day, because of unrealistic fears.
In a community where Common Core is widely questioned or reviled, it is ironic that parents are concerned about students being placed in classes based on their abilities and interests instead of their age alone. Allowing freshmen to take difficult, upper-level classes (when appropriate) allows the school to challenge its highest-achieving students and stimulate their intellectual growth so they are consistently learning and do not become bored.
Allowing seniors to take lower-level classes also helps the school to match students with classes that are genuinely appropriate for their present skill level instead of forcing them into generalizations of what a student should understand by a certain age.
If we were to adopt restrictions preventing seniors and freshmen from taking classes together, students might be forced into classes that do not fit their present capabilities. Limiting fast-learning freshmen and excessively pushing slower-learning seniors could be extremely detrimental for each grade. If we attempted to allow students to take classes appropriate to them but were forced to split the classes based on grade level, segments of such classes would likely to be too small to run, eliminating the opportunity all together. Parents’ concerns about upperclassmen are understandable indeed, but removing those seniors from freshman classes and vice versa looks to be a logistical nightmare.
I empathize with the parents who are now deeply concerned about sending their kids to school after the horrific crimes committed at Rockville. I commend their efforts to defend classroom safety — I, as a student, cannot possibly understand how it must feel worrying that your child is in danger of being violated. Yet I cannot stand by as the community grasps out to blame valid but unrelated topics like class demographics or immigration policy for such a grave issue as sexual assault.
Instead, reflect upon the culture that allows people to justify committing rape, and permits all too many rapists to get off free. Inspired and agitated by those thoughts, we are all empowered to ignite the fire of change.

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