The opportunity, a first of its kind, evolved from a desire on the part of the board to gather more input from students.
“They (the board) tend to hear a lot from parents, teachers, administrators and community constituents, but felt they do not often hear enough from students who are actually receiving the services we provide,” explains Larry Francois, Northshore’s superintendent.
Carolyn O’Keeffe, assistant superintendent for secondary education, helped to design and coordinate the forum, working with high school principals and leadership representatives.
The students were given a high level of responsibility and autonomy to organize their ideas and presentations around the five issues addressed: four-year high schools; harassment, intimidation and bullying; technology; community service and the rigor and relevance of school curricula.
Participants offered feedback on the benefits and drawbacks of the current junior high/high school configuration, where 9th grade counts for high school graduation, but occurs at the junior high, not the high school.
“I feel that with a four-year high school, ninth graders would have more academic challenges,” comments WHS junior Matt Spencer. “They would also be prepared and better informed about topics like post-high school careers and colleges.”
SAS ninth grader Kobi Robinson says, “A four-year high school model would create a stronger community and put everyone on an equal level of togetherness.” He adds, “I also think it would help raise the maturity level of ninth graders. They would be challenged more in their academics and for example, they would get more opportunities to excel in sports.”
According to board president, Julia Lacey, grade configuration is an issue that the board will be investigating.
“It’s one of the many options being looked at in regards to the growth at the north end of the district,” she notes. “Woodinville could handle the addition of a fourth grade level with the remodel, but as it stands now, Inglemoor and Bothell couldn’t accommodate an extra year.”
As for the topic of technology, the leadership expressed its desire to see a student wireless network incorporated in the high schools.
“There are plenty of times when I want to look up some information, but I can’t because I’m not able to get onto the wireless,” comments Ingelmoor senior Ryan Hatchtel. “It would also be great to have one web site that combined all the necessary information — students’ grades, teacher contacts, school activities, events, etc. Right now, you have to go to many different sites to access the information. It would just make it so much more convenient and easy to have one main site.” Students also told the board that they would like to have a consistent on-line forum for classes to collaborate that could involve the teacher, too.
At present, a number of classes create Facebook pages, usually at the initiation of a student, but teachers are discouraged from engaging with students on Facebook.
There are, however, other social network forums specifically designed for educational purposes that students feel would be good alternatives.
The participants shared many of the initiatives taking place in their schools to combat harassment, intimidation and bullying, acknowledging that cyber bullying is a real and complex problem that students own primary responsibility for addressing.
Student-to-student dialogue regarding these messages was noted as being more effective as opposed to an administration-to-student approach.
In regards to community service, the leadership representatives described the different projects their schools undertake on a consistent basis.
At Woodinville, students read to elementary schoolers annually on Dr. Seuss Day, whereas at SAS, the teens plant trees on a local farm. Bothell High has its March of Dimes campaign and Inglemoor focuses on holiday giving.
Finally, participants discussed how rigor and relevance enhance their education.
“They validated many of the steps we have taken as a district to not only increase rigorous course offerings, but also to break down the barriers that have prevented students from accessing more rigorous coursework if that is what they want to do,” comments Francois.
Additionally, there was a consensus from the participants for support of the new state graduation requirements (effective beginning with the graduating class of 2016).
“We are in favor of the changes,” says Spencer. “The requirements added a semester of civics, which Northshore already has, but it also added more English, so for those graduating in 2016, they will need four years of English as opposed to three.”
Spencer feels that the additional English is important as it puts the requirements more in line with college entrance requirements and workforce preparedness.
Both the students and school board members concluded that the forum was a success.
“I feel it was a great opportunity to express our ideas to people who make the decisions about our education,” comments Robinson. “Opportunities like this can help to bridge the gap.”
He adds, “I think we were taken seriously as a collective group and that the board really listened to us.”
Spencer remarks that the forum was an effective use of time and very productive, and he hopes that there will be more in the future.
Lacey, speaking for the board, notes that there will definitely be more forums.
“Yes, absolutely,” she says. “The board really enjoyed hearing from the leadership and we talked about hearing from other student voices in the schools, as well.”
Francois agrees that the forum experience was very positive and enlightening. He adds, “I believe the board truly appreciated and took to heart the feedback and information they received from students and genuinely enjoyed the opportunity to interact with them. My impression from students is that they felt valued and engaged in issues that matter to them.”
He notes that the board has asked the principals and student leadership coordinators to de-brief with students so that they can get more detailed feedback. He also concurs with the motivation expressed to continue with the forums, replicating them perhaps twice a year, if possible.
“I’d just like to say how proud and impressed I was by our students,” remarks Francois. “They organized and lead their presentations to the board and were articulate, thoughtful and professional. It was amazing to see and filled me with optimism for our future.”