Students envision the perfect school
What makes the perfect school?
More technology? Better student-teacher relationships? More rewards for student achievement? A cushy student lounge?
A group of students at Pocahontas County High School are tossing around these and other ideas on how they can make their school a better place.
The students are part of the High Rocks Academyﾗa leadership program for girls based near Mill Point.
Calling themselves YELLﾗYoung Enthusiastic Learning Leadersﾗthe young women say they are trying to get other groups like Natural Helpers, Student Council and National Honor Societyﾠ involved in reshaping their school.
Junior Janney Lockman said the idea sprung out of the High Rocksﾒ Community Thursdays program, in which girls meet once a week to work on community projects that theyﾒve chosen themselves.
ﾓWe did a survey of the issues that we would like to focus on,ﾔ Lockman said. ﾓThere are a lot of issues in the community, but we canﾒt focus on all of them.ﾔ
Some of the issues that came up in the survey were youth participation in the community, education, wellness, recreation and the arts, safety,ﾠ and drugs and alcohol
ﾓWe decided to focus on education, because it affects every studentﾒs life, every day,ﾔ said Lockman.
Junior Kendra Taylor said that by starting with the school, they could build momentum for larger, and even more ambitious projects.
ﾓWe knew if we started with school problems, other students would want to get involved,ﾔ Taylor said ﾓAfter we improved education, we could move on to other areas of improvement, in the county, the state, the country and the world.ﾔ
So how might the school be improved?
Freshman Kayla Riley said she would like to see the schoolﾒs commons area converted to a comfortable student lounge.
ﾓI really think the students would like to have a nice place to sit, talk with their friends, play games and play music,ﾔ said Riley.
During their Thursday meetings, Riley and other students have gone so far as to draw up a new floor plan and come up with a wish-list of fun furniture, games and decorations for their dream lounge. The space would be used during the lunch hour and between classes, she said, providing a space to unwind during the course of the school day.
In addition to a nice student lounge, Taylor said she envisioned a perfect school as having adequate funding for classes and teacher materials, more class options for students and a place where computers replace heavy textbooks.
Comfortable classrooms, time to decompress, annual visits to college campuses and more options for independent study round out the laundry-list of changes Taylor said she would like to see.
Most importantly though, Taylor said she would like to see the school do more to recognized student achievement.
Seeing their peers get recognition might spur other students to work harder or behave better, Taylor speculated.
ﾓA lot of kids do really good and never get recognized,ﾔ she said. ﾓI think if they got recognized, some of the other kids would get jealous and improve what theyﾒre doing so they could get involved with the rewards.ﾔ
Taylor fondly remembers getting to ski or swim at Snowshoe Mountain for good grades at the end of a grading period during grade school.
ﾓIn elementary and middle school we always got rewarded,ﾔ said Taylor. ﾓI think that should carry into high school, because you have harder classes and youﾒre expected to do much more than when you were in elementary and middle school.ﾔ
Instituting movie days, a harvest celebration, career days or ski days for student successes might liven up the day-to-day routine for students and prevent them from feeling burned out, Taylor said.
Students wouldnﾒt be the only ones getting extra recognition in the perfect school.
Lockman has been busy drafting a school-wide survey on student-teacher relationships, with the ultimate goal of finding out how to improve those relationships and creating a reward program for ﾓteachers who have gone the extra mile.ﾔ
ﾓI think sometimes the teachers feel like the students are out to get them,ﾔ said Lockman, ﾓand thatﾒs not always true.ﾔ
ﾓI think students are sometimes afraid to talk to their teachers,ﾔ she continued ﾓand they donﾒt realize that teachers are willing to help them. As a result, theyﾒre kind of defensive and donﾒt want to ask for help.ﾔ
Lockman said she felt like those attitudes play into a cycle of students not doing as well as they might be able to with a little extra help and then, getting upset with a teacher over their own grades.
Lockman hopes the survey itself will stir student interest and involvement in the school. Students are already meeting with school officials, she said. Some have met with the school improvement committee, while others hope to approach the board of education with their ideas.
Assistant Principal Joe Riley visited one of the groupﾒs meetings two weeks ago, saying he was interested in anything that might get students involved in improving student morale and the classroom environment at PCHS.
While he acknowledged some of their goals were more realistic than others, Riley said he was encouraged by what he the students were doing.
Riley said he was open to helping the students out as much as he was able and encouraged the students to be persistent in addressing the issues they see at the school.
ﾓI hope that you all keep working on this,ﾔ he told the students. ﾓCome to usﾠ and keep prodding, so weﾒll look at these issues. Sometimes we get wrapped up in discipline and that sort of thing, and thatﾒs not what most of our time needs to be spent on.ﾔ
ﾓIﾒm really excited about what you all are doing here,ﾔ Riley added. ﾓIﾒm glad to think that people are wanting to make a difference, especially from the student standpoint. Keep it going, and give us some feedback.ﾔ
While he often hears students complain about how much they dislike school, Riley said he was encouraged to finally hear from students trying to come up with some answers, rather than just naming the problems.
High Rocks VISTA worker Susan Burnett said that approach is what she and other High Rocks staff are striving toward. Burnett said seeing the students thinking about ways they could improve their community has been exciting.
ﾓIt was really interesting to see their perspective,ﾔ said Burnett. ﾓA lot of kids are respected in the community and kids are asked for their opinions, but thereﾒs a disconnect between adults asking for their opinions and really taking them and seeing action come out of those opinions.
Too often, Burnett said, youth are asked for their opinions on how things could be different or better, only to be told by adults, ﾓthatﾒs just the way it is.ﾔ
The after school program has given the students an opportunity to discuss exactly how they could go about addressing the issues they see before them, said Burnett.
ﾓPart of that whole process is having them think, ﾑOkay, what can I do? What am I excited about?ﾔ she said. ﾓI hope they can teach their peers, their siblings and the community at large to dream big and see what they can do to make that dream happen.ﾔ
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