RANDOLPH,NJ-The Randolph Middle School hosted a special forum to raise awareness in the community with a movement called “Replace the Race”: Empowered Communities Transforming Education. The event was an interactive presentation consisting of film clips and guided discussions to encourage the audience to address the issue of how the schools and community can improve the quality of life for students.

Two parents, Sandra Moussan and Jennifer Wagener, suggested the program to Middle School Principal, Dr. Dennis Copeland, to address the issue of stress that many Randolph students face. Wagener is a mother of three boys, one in third grade and two in middle school. She was a teacher in special education for many years, and is now a School Counselor. Moussan is a Life Coach, as well as a parent of two middle school girls.

Wagener and Moussan explained their passion for bringing the “Replace the Race” program to Randolph. "Years ago we went to see the ‘Race to Nowhere’ and came out saying okay now what? Now what do we do?” said Wagener.

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"Part of my passion is to instill love into whatever it is you are doing," said Moussan. “Be yourself and decide what it is you want. How can we as a community create a better, more engaging education system?”

"This is my passion too,” said Wagener, “Helping children do their best and really feel their best. I think we all struggle with the same thing; how do we create a balance in the life that our children are living?”

Dr. Copeland also shared his objective for the evening.  "The sons and daughters of Randolph are experiencing stress from testing, overbooked schedules, all of that stuff that comes with growing up and maturing into an adult,” said Dr. Copeland.  He stressed that the middle school wants to educate the whole child. This includes more than academics but also the social-emotional, to help with wellness and the learning.

Moussan and Wagener showed clips of the documentary case study, “Race to Nowhere” and invited the audience to break into smaller groups to discuss various issues raised in the film.  Parents were then asked to share their key points with the entire audience.  

One parent noted that when a student is successful it is everyone's success but if a student is failing, the fault lies solely with the student and no one else is to blame. "We need to understand that if a child fails it's everybody's responsibility,” she said.

Some parents emphasized the importance of the happiness factor, meaning that if you use your child’s happiness as a guide, it will help shape decisions regarding how they spend their time. Others felt that education has become increasingly concerned with passing tests. Creativity suffers when teachers must focus solely on test preparation.

It was pointed out that the testing industry is a billion dollar industry. This was followed up with a comment that the medication and therapy industry is also a billion dollar industry because of this culture.

Another point raised was how school curriculums should be redesigned to nurture a child's best subject or skill set.  A standard curriculum for diverse children often fails those children who don’t fall in the middle or conform to the average.

One father who was raised outside the U.S. did not experience the kinds of pressures and anxieties that his children do. He explained that money has become the ultimate goal. Kids are taught that in order to live a good life they have to get good grades to get into a good school and get a high paying job.

"The happiest countries in the world also seem to be the poorest countries,” he said.  “Clearly money doesn't equal happiness. I know it's hard to say. A lot of us like money and do things that make us happy with it. I realize that, but it's just sad to see a 16 or 17 year old talking about that."

One middle school student stood up and argued that sometimes stress is a good motivator to help push kids in the right direction. Some parents agreed and pointed out that kids could balance other activities and grades as long as they prepare themselves. Activities may distract children but a child can learn how to organize their time and get their schoolwork done. The student's father, who is also a teacher, believes that diminishing homework will not necessarily alleviate stress levels since the homework helps prepare the student for class.

Participants also raised concern for their children’s social environment.  Students do not have recess in middle school.  Some parents recognize the need for a time for kids to decompress during their day. One teacher felt that kids might benefit from some socialization with teachers or counselors, providing an opportunity for students to talk about their school or home life.  A few middle school students agreed that additional time for socializing would help them unwind or recharge.

After a healthy debate, parents voiced concern that the discussion might be futile unless everyone in the education system is involved, including the superintendent, Dr. David Browne, the school board and the middle school staff.

"This is the first step of many steps," Copeland assured everyone. "The intent was to raise consciousness. This is a middle school initiative because we are truly concerned about the ‘whole child.’ Academics are important but life is just so much more than academics.”

Moussan and Wagener agreed that Wednesday’s meeting was merely the first step in a larger movement to motivate the community to create a better educational environment.  Moussan said that the school now owns a copy of “Race to Nowhere” and plans to schedule a screening in May.

For more information on Replace the Race, as well as “The Race to Nowhere”, please visit:

  http://www.racetonowhere.com/replace-the-race-event           http://www.racetonowhere.com/

In order to keep everyone involved in this conversation, Wagener and Moussan have started an e-mail distribution list. To be added to the list, please contact:

Sandra Moussan: sandraolper@gmail.com or Jennifer Wagener:  jadwagener@gmail.com