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Students say respect and relevance lead to better engagement in school

by David Limm on Dec 16 2013 Posted in Latest news

Call it the three Rs of student engagement: respect, rigor, and relevance. 

At the School Reform Commission meeting Monday evening, a group of high school students led more than 150 of their peers in a series of roundtable discussions intended to gather thoughts on what the District can do to keep its students motivated, challenged, and in school. 

After the two-hour session, an upbeat Superintendent William Hite said that he had observed three demands consistently throughout the evening’s discussions: Respect the students. Provide them with rigorous experiences. Make learning relevant.

Many students expressed frustration with schools that failed to prepare them for the challenges that come after high school or in the working world. 

“They fear facing Philly,” said one student from YouthBuild Charter School. “If teachers engage with students more and show them that they can do it, students will show resiliency and push forward to the next step and even further than that.”

Kadisha Alberga, a senior at Parkway Center City, cautioned students at her table not to assign unnecessary blame to teachers for unmotivated students.

“There’s only so much a teacher can do. If you want to do it, you want to do it,” said Alberga. “I think some students want it easy, in a way. How far do you want them to hold your hand?”

As the District experiences a funding shortage that has left many schools short of resources, many students felt they weren’t getting access to the types of rigorous opportunities that colleges look for, such as AP and honors courses, and extracurricular activities. 

“You should be able to compete and apply to competitive schools, even if you don’t go to Central,” said one student. 

Bahsir Matthews, one of the students chosen to facilitate a discussion on the role of adults, said he once viewed many adults with distrust. Some had discouraged him or prejudged him based on reputation or stereotypes, he said. That lack of respect led him to think that “at the end of the day, they were just concerned with getting their checks.”

But when he transferred to Sankofa Freedom Academy, a charter school, he said the staff showed a greater dedication to students than he had seen at his previous school. 

“If a school staff can be a father or mother to a student, that’s how they can build a lot of trust. Then they’ll be able to come to them about anything.”

Hite said he repeatedly heard an appeal from students to “make the work relevant — make it real for us.” He cited one student who said his afterschool robotics program was more enjoyable than the entirety of the school day,

Alberga, the Parkway Center City senior, said she liked how her teacher taught her class the mythological story of Odysseus with an eye toward making it relevant to students today. “The teacher gives a modern version of it in our own way — that works for most students.” 

After the meeting, many of the students said they appreciated the District’s effort to let students speak their minds and involve them in the process. But what matters to them is improvement, they said.

"They are making little baby steps, but they need to put on their big boy and big girl shoes and start making bigger steps,” said Cierra Mallette, a student at Edison High School and a member of Youth United for Change, a student activist group. 

Hite said that notes summarizing feedback from the evening's discussions would soon be posted on the District's website.

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Comments (15)

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 07:18.

I participated in the program last night and it was an absolutely wonderful and inspirational experience. It was excellent.

The students were Awesome and in them lies the Hope for our district. I sat at a roundtable discussion with ten of the brightest, most sincere, and most aware students I have ever had the good fortune to sit down and listen to.

Students led the discussions, and what the adults seemed to have a consensus on is that -- the students by far out-shined the adult led programs of the past!

What I realized so clearly and so strikingly is that "all of this" which is happening to them really does effect them so deeply. We need to return to teaching the "whole child" and student centered, personalized teaching.

Self esteem matters. Relevance matters. Counselors matter. So does teachers and principals understanding and getting to know students. Understanding their dreams, their hopes, their fears, and their frailities matters.

All of that matters so much more than test scores. Students are not test scores they are children emerging into adults and going through oh so very much as they do. They need our help, our support and our hearts.

Thank you Dr. Hite and our School District leadership TEAM. It was by far the best program I have participated in the last decade -- by far.

It was very rewarding and inspirational to me. Thank you for allowing me to be part of it and listen to those Great young adults.

Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 07:53.

Children are not test scores and neither are teachers. This crew running 440 are wolves in sheep's clothing. Judge them by what they do and not what they say. Respect is a two way street. We have many talented children. Without ethical leadership from 440 the children who disrupt the process will continue to do so. Every resource sholud be in school buildings and focused on learning, not babysitting. Close 440, move to an abandoned school building and let us begin the process of electing leaders who can spell ethics.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 11:30.

Followers and other leaders always "wait to be shown." When the words of the leadership differ from their actions, credibility suffers. When credibility is lost all power to lead effectively is lost. That reality was studied by Kouzes and Posner, the leading researchers on effective CEO's, and their research was documented in their outstanding article "Leadership in the Eyes of the Follower."

They were certainly provided with "student voices" in a very powerful manner. I talked to many people after the program, and I heard nothing but positive remarks about the program and how impressive the students were.

How well they follow through with what was said is something we will see. I assure you. Our new leaders and their leadership acumen is emerging, and to be honest, I like what I saw and heard last night. I believe our voices, and the voices of our students, are having at least some persuasive effect on them.

The students at my table did not condemn their teachers at all, and recognized that many of them are overwhelmed by all that they are burdened to do, and they understood that some just feel like giving up because of the circumstances they are forced to live with.

In their minds, the single most important factor for effective teachers was -- that they "care about them as individuals."

The students are sick and tired about the singular focus on testing and not on their needs as individuals. One student from the International Baccalaureate program at Northeast said that he wanted us to "go back to the old days" when there were enough teachers and counselors to meet their needs.

Some students seem to have "had enough" with the constant threat of having their schools closed.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 09:02.

How about respecting EVERYONE.... students, teachers and staff. Baaaaaaaaaaaaa

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 12:33.

It sounds great but when the District's motivation is to close x number of schools this sounds like window dressiing, IOW give the kids a chance to speak then plow ahead with your next round of closures.

Rich I nver understood what "child centered" or "whole child" meant, but of course I grew up back in the day.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 12:41.

Another thing I don't understand is why everything has to be "relevant to today." History and classics that were written years ago DO have relevance to today's world, and without that understanding one is doomed to shallowness. Robotics is something than can be enjoyable and have usefulness to one's future but it doesn't precude say learning a language which is going by the wayside.What we need is money, time, and committment and not this dismantling of programs that were a given years ago.

I'm tired of hearing the term "compete in a global society" as if that's the only goal of education.

Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 14:18.

Bodine - the so-called "international" high school - cut world languages. Now, students only get two years of a world language. How can the school claim to be "international" when cutting world languages? Travesty.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 14:48.

So much for "compete in the global economy" with such a minimal foreign language base. I hear that term used by the President among others.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 14:37.

I hate the use of the word "rigorous." I would never want my kids in a "rigorous" school!
rig·or·ous [rig-er-uhs]
characterized by rigor; rigidly severe or harsh, as people, rules, or discipline: rigorous laws.
severely exact or accurate; precise: rigorous research.
(of weather or climate) uncomfortably severe or harsh; extremely inclement.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 20:36.

Yes. Let's eliminate all standards and grading altogether. That way neither the kids nor the teachers have anything to be accountable for. Then when the kids get to college or out in the real world and can't read and write proficiently, they can tell their prospective employers that it's not important. Of course that will prepare them for the real world as we know life isn't "rigorous."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 21:31.

One can be taught great things with a peaceful teacher.
Severe harshness does not teach a love of learning.

Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 15:01.

Amen on the use of the term "rigor". THe University of Pennsylvania loves using that term. They use it to justify charging exorbitant amounts for tuition while teaching young men and women elitism: the philosophy their degree makes than better than non-Alumni Philadelphians. Wharton has taken over the school. When I think of rigor I think of "rigor mortis"- latin for death. Ben Franklin is turning over in his grave.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 20:55.

Ever since I roomed with a pathologist in training, I've known that "rigor" is the third step in the seven steps that complete the decomposition process in living things. "Putrefaction" is the fifth, I think the District may be there now, we've passed "rigor", so we can stop demanding that & start working on "skeletonization", which is obviously the fate the political establishment intends for public education.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 22:40.

You're comparing rigor mortis with rigor in the classroom??? Because the root of rigor is Latin for stiffness??? That is one giant leap. The spin of some of these posts is becoming absolutely bizarre. Why not just have no structure at all? Let the kids do whatever they want. Heck, just make showing up completely voluntary for students and teachers so as not to portray the appearance of rigor. Pathetic.

Submitted by Tom Derby, Ed.D. (not verified) on Wed, 12/18/2013 - 11:08.

Most teachers (I'm a retired one) have the good sense to want to deliver relevance to their students. Sad to say, though, the uptight, prescribed curriculums in urban schools so not permit relevance--only skills, factoids and the like are allowed. Anything that (they think) will raise test scores.

Tom Derby, Ed.D.

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