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Student mobility: Year-long look at the impact of kids changing schools

Year-long look at the impact of kids changing schools (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - For the past year, as part of Local 12’s investigation of child poverty in Cincinnati, reporters for the station have been showing you something many people in middle and upper-class neighborhoods never experience.

It's called “student mobility:” Kids moving from school to school impacting their learning.

On the day after school ended at Carson Elementary in West Price Hill, as teachers cleaned out their classrooms for the summer, the reality of high student turnover in the inner city was not far behind.

“This past week of school I had three fifth graders who were withdrawn for family reasons,” said Margie DiMuzio, a 5th grade teacher.

That's the last week of school. Same week, with just three days left in the year.

Such is the reality of urban education. Student mobility is directly connected to poverty. Parents get laid off, or evicted. Families move and move again.

It makes learning tougher because student lives in low income neighborhoods are tougher.

“It's stressful. We are probably the most consistent thing they've seen the past 180-some days. So I don't know what the answer is out of school. We do what we can inside and that's about it,” said Kim Kemen, a 1st grade teacher.

Local 12’s Jeff Hirsh followed student mobility at Carson Elementary in Price Hill for the entire year, from the first day of school in August to the last day of school in May.

Specifically, Jeff covered the fifth grade class, where Margie Dimuzio is the lead teacher for four classes, around 100 kids, and first grade, where Kim Kemen is part of a two-classroom team of about 50 students.

On day one, Jeff asked each teacher what kind of turnover they expected by day 180.

Their predictions, obviously based on experience, were nearly perfect:

“By the end of the school year, probably a third of my class, at least a third of the students probably will have left,” said DiMuzio on the first day of classes.

“Throughout the year we had 32 students move in and out in different times,” said DiMuzio on the last day of classes.

“I would say almost half of the students come and go and it's extremely disheartening,” said Kemen, on the first day of classes.

“Our turnover rate was just about 50 percent, and that's what I think I said at the beginning of the year,” said Kemen.

One good thing is that Margie DiMuzio says she's seeing some students stay longer at Carson, to the tune of two or three years instead of two or three months.

But unlike an affluent suburban school, the odds of a student staying in Carson all the way from pre-kindergarten to grade 6 are slim.

“There's probably less than 20 per cent of our kids that will stay in our school from the time they enroll until they graduate and go to middle school,” said DiMuzio.

But teachers like Margie DiMuzio and Kim Kemen don't use high student turnover as an excuse. It's just reality.

They deal with it and in fact, they kind of relish the challenge.

“It's students who are faced with so many things and you get them someplace and they're small victories, and they're great,” said Kemen.

“Absolutely, they're our responsibility. They're our kids. When they come in here they become part of us,” said DiMuzio.

It would be nice to imagine that when school opens in the fall, the poverty which permeates the neighborhood and surrounds the building will be gone and you won't have the issue of students moving from one school to another to another, but the reality is that's not going to happen

And before you know it, summer will be over. Margie DiMuzio will return, starting her 42nd year as a teacher.

“I like the time off but I’ll be back ready to go in the fall,” said DiMuzio.

Kim Kemen, however, is leaving Carson Elementary and moving to Oyler School in Lower Price Hill, to supervise adult volunteers who mentor children.

It's not the burbs. It's another inner city school with high mobility. You go where the need is greatest.

“And that's what I tell all the teachers. You made it. You did it. You had success. Now move forward. It makes you a stronger better person for what you do,” said Kemen.

That's good advice for students too, wherever they end up.

The next school year starts on August 16th.

Because the school year just ended, Local 12 does not have the most recent turnover rate for the entire Cincinnati Public School district.

However, for the 2015-16 school year, the mobility rate citywide was 16 percent.

So clearly, some schools have more stable populations, but schools like Carson have a much higher rate of students coming and going.

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