nDepth: Real Expectations: Webster Middle School

Oklahoman reporter Carrie Coppernoll is spending time inside Oklahoma City elementary, middle and high schools to report on the real expectations inside the school district. Part Two features Webster Middle School.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL ccoppernoll@opubco.com Published: May 23, 2012

It was Thursday morning, and about a dozen teachers at Webster Middle School snapped on rubber gloves, looking a little bewildered.

“We've had two students go down,” Assistant Principal Joey Slate said.

Slate gave the game plan: search everywhere on campus.

“I've been here four years, and nothing like this has ever happened,” one woman said.

Two boys were suspected of smoking marijuana, taking Xanax and coming to school. One passed out in the hallway; another blacked out during class. An ambulance with flashing lights was parked in front of the school.

Students were kept in their second-hour classes while teachers checked in trash cans and behind doors, in bushes and under doormats.

A girl with a hall pass was turned back on her way to the restrooms. A few moments later, an announcement squawked out of the intercom: no bathroom breaks and no trips to the water fountain until further notice.

After everything was checked, the teachers came back to the office.

“Thank you for your help,” Slate said. “Nobody found anything. Keep your ears open. Kids talk.”

For the rest of the day, anybody out of class without reason would be in trouble. Anyone found in out-of-bounds areas would be immediately suspended.

The incident was the talk of the school the rest of the day. Some teachers switched lesson plans and talked about how drugs affect the brain. Other discussed how drug use affected their families or friends.

Math teacher Kylah Fisk silenced rumors and whispers in one of her afternoon classes.

“We're all safe,” she said. “Don't do anything stupid. Don't do anything your parents wouldn't approve of, and we'll all be good. Until we all have facts, we're going to talk about math.”

Time of transition

Webster Middle School is a melting pot of ethnicities. About half of the student population is Hispanic, a quarter is white and a quarter is black. But social cliques don't split along color lines at the school, 6708 S Santa Fe.

Kids power through their lunches and head for the door, out to the empty acreage behind the building to socialize or play sports. The tables clear within minutes.

For now, most of the students are still in a time of transition. Some teens still look like elementary school students; others are taller than their teachers. They borrow quarters to buy M&M's. They have Mohawks and facial piercings.

For this age group, “life-or-death” moments happen many times a day.

“Omigod, Alex,” one girl gasped, as a friend handed her a worksheet during first hour Monday morning. “You just saved my life!”

In the same room, a moth flitted above a group of girls. “Eew,” one girl squealed as she jumped out of her chair. “I'm going to die!”

About 94 percent of Webster Middle School students receive free or reduced-priced lunch because of low household income. For a family of four, the annual household income threshold for free lunch is about $29,000. A food pantry behind Principal Brad Herzer's office is stocked with peanut butter, beans and packaged meals.

The student body is also very mobile, Herzer said. Families drift from school to school, district to district. Only about half of the students in the building were there on the first day of school, according to district statistics.

One student tried to enroll last month. The 14-year-old hadn't been in school for more than a year, and he hadn't completed the sixth grade. His parents had been homeless at one point.

“Where do I place him?” Herzer asked.

If they stay in the area, most students will go on to Capitol Hill or Southeast high schools, Herzer said. A few are looking to transfer out to other Oklahoma City high schools, where specialized freshman academies offer students the chance to pursue fields such as finance and engineering.

Language barriers

About 1 in 5 students at Webster Middle School speak English as a second language, Herzer said.

There's only one teacher for those 141 students.

But regardless how well Spanish-speaking students know English, they still have to take the same tests as their peers, said Martha Pierce, the lone English as a Second Language teacher.

“The hard part of this is they are at different levels,” Pierce said. “We've got to move fast. It's overwhelming to them sometimes.”



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