Food for thought: Middle schoolers speak their minds on issues

May 14, 2004|HERB BROCK

On Thursday afternoon some 20 people gathered in a room at Bate Middle School for a forum to provide input in the Danville school district's next strategic plan. A facilitator peppered them with questions, but he had a hard time keeping pace with the rapid-fire responses from the forum participants.

Danville and every other school district in the state often host forums to gather public input on things as broad as a districtwide strategic plan to things as specific as whether snack food should be served in the cafeteria. And in most cases, the participants are school board members, PTO presidents and array of the usual community leaders.

But the folks gathered in the bandroom at Bate Thursday afternoon weren't wearing business suits or coats and ties, or wrinkles for that matters. They were in T-shirts and shorts, and the only wrinkles were in some well-worn jeans.

The eager participants were a cross-section of Bate's student body of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. For more than an hour, they responded to questions from Tim Holt, a facilitator with the Kentucky School Boards Association. Holt also led a community forum Thursday night at Danville High School.


Input from the students and their parents, former students, teachers, staff and the community at large will be recorded for use by a yet-to-be appointed 25-member plan team - and it also will include students - in the development of goals and objectives for the Danville schools for the next five to seven years. The plan is a blueprint covering everything from curriculum to facilities.

"We thought that it would be remiss to develop a plan about our schools without getting input from the people who currently are attending them," said David Davis, director of administrative services for the Danville district, who is overseeing the planning process. "We believe they have a lot to say."

Davis' belief was more than confirmed at Bate. There was no shortage of hands in the air as Holt asked questions.

"What's the purpose of this school?" asked Holt.

"It forms a base of education that you add onto in future years, in high school and college," said Emma Moore.

"If you choose not to go to college, it give you at least what you need in the basics of eduction, like math and science and history, to get by," said Anderson Salinas.

Xerces Simpson, alluding to the fact that some students drop out, said it probably is a good thing that school is required so that students do at least get those basics.

"You need to know a few basics to get through life, and school is required so that kids can get those basics," she said.

Holt then asked the students what kind of school they would develop if they could call the shots.

Esther Rugerio said she would emphasize the ethnic diversity she finds at Bate.

"Some schools are all white, some are all black," she said. "I think school should reflect life, and life, at least here in Danville, involves whites, African-Americans and Hispanics."

Several students said they also appreciate the diversity of teaching styles, saying that they like having classes not only with different subjects but also with different teachers and teaching methods.

Emma Moore, though, said she believes most, if not all, teachers at Bate have one thing in common - they use positive re-enforcement to build students' self-esteem.

"They heap praise when a student does something well and also encourage students to build on the good things they do," she said.

Acting on the students' own discussion of gifted and talented classes, Holt asked them if it is a good thing to segregate high achieving students from the rest of them. He got mixed responses.

D'Andree Logan said he doesn't like the selection process for advanced classes, which involves maintaining an overall "B" average and passing a test.

"I feel that (current process) is dumb," said D'Andree. "I think all students, well, at least those who show some promise and willingness to learn, should be allowed in any class they want and be allowed to prove they can do the work. If they can't do it, then they should go back to a regular class."

Other students said that, while they are sympathetic to D'Andree's case, that mixing low achievers and high achievers in the same advanced class would be disruptive to the high achievers.

However, a couple of students said that, at least in regular classes, most teachers are able to set individual paces for each student depending on their level achievement.

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