Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Community Engagement Update – Youth Focus Group

We feel that the student voice is one that is too often missed. Part of our community engagement effort focuses on expressing student’s insights and interests. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with Youth Ambassadors*, a group of youth from the Seattle area. They ranged in age from 6th grade to university students and represent a diverse community of committed and inspiring teens. These young people strive to influence others with the powers of peace, love and compassion.

I was personally impressed with their honesty, and found them to be bright and courageous young people with brilliant ideas about the meaning of quality education. They represent many public and private schools such as Garfield, Madrona K-8, Washington Middle School, Holly Names, and Lakeside. Take a good look at their comments and give us your feedback.

Youth Ambassadors' Comments:

1) “There is a gap between what teachers say they will teach and what they actually teach you. They say they are going to enhance your understanding of the culture of the language you are trying to learn and then all they teach you is a cultural song or dance. It gives you a false impression of what you are actually supposed to learn. Don’t have inflated goals; it you are going to do it [teach], do it.”

2) “School leadership should raise teachers' salary. Teaching is a profession that many people cannot do well because it does not have high pay. If we want our society to be more educated and get more teachers, then the best thing we can do to attract them is offer a higher salary.”

3) “I have been in the lowest math classes possible during school because I’m just not good at math. I was in Integrated Math II last year. I was like the “white person” in my class because I’m half Asian and everyone else was East Asian or African American. The teacher that I had also had AP classes that she treated differently than our class. She was really happy and polite and nice [to the AP class]; she brought them cookies, she had a really good attitude and she really helpful. And then with our class it was the complete opposite. She called my friend Kevin a ninja. I don’t know what that was about, but it was bad. She would talk back to students and snap her fingers at them. I don’t know if that was her idea of getting through to those kids. It was just interesting seeing the difference in how she treated them. She was like the least helpful teacher of all. She never ever would help a kid [in my class] out. The other Asians would be dispersed among the other student’s tables. I guess she expected us to be the smart ones. It was pretty shocking; the way she taught. It disturbed me and made me really angry. It’s just interesting seeing the difference in how AP and regular classes can be taught by the same teacher. “

4) “To be honest, I have never been at risk of not graduating just because of how I was raised. My parents always pushed me to take harder classes and go to college, but still I can think of three or four teachers that have had the biggest impact on me and I’m still in touch with all of them. Because they ask me how I am doing; they know what is going on in my life and they will share parts [stories] of themselves with me too. And so, I actually feel like I have a relationship with them. I feel like I have someone who makes me want to come to school and go to class. I feel like if there were more teachers like that then there would be more students who actually want to go to school.”

5) “Teaching is not always engaging. A lot of what we do is a lot of textbook work and reading the answers back. There is a not hands on learning and that means a lot of students are not successful. A very small part of the [student] population is good at that. The people who are good at SAT’s and good at WASL and good at tests can learn like that. We need more hands on things in the class. Make it relevant to our lives now.”

6) “I went to Washington Middle School and I felt fortunate to be able to go to one of the better schools. With all of the budget cuts and kids being relocated, even if students are at a higher level, it [quality learning] is not accessible to them because they are forced into a school they don’t really want to go to. I think that if they [school district] are going to have this whole geographical thing it’s not really fare to have a separation between good and bad schools. At Washington, I had some really good teachers that affected me and wanted to make me do better and I think that those kinds of teacher are really needed at the schools that are considered “bad schools”. Without teacher motivation there is no student motivation.”

7) “Counselors; there need to be more of them. At my school, we have 1600 students and like three or four counselors. That’s like 400 kids per counselor; they can’t possibly cater to each student’s needs and be accessible to them to really help guide them. People [students] have to be self motivated to get all the credits they need. Accountability [for students] is one thing, but for counselors that’s their job.”

8) "I think there should be a better system of getting students to know what classes they need to take. I know that there is counselor night, and my mom was about to not go to that, but at the last minute she did and figured out that I have an occupational ed issue. If she hadn’t of gone I wouldn’t have been able to graduate on time. That would have been horrible if she had not have gone and a lot of people deal with that [same issue]."

9) “Stuff like gang violence and drama make it hard for some of us. Me and my friends get a lot of threats from other kids. They say they’re gonna’ kill us or blow up the school and stuff like that. They [gangs] just don’t care about finishing school. One of my friends said he is going to get a job working for his uncle and make money that way. He thinks, 'why go to school if it doesn’t make adifference?'”

10) “I really like how you came out here to ask us about what we think. I would really like it if school leaders [principals, the superintendent, school board] took the time to talk to us. I think that would make a difference.”

-Solynn McCurdy, Community Engagement Manager

*Learn more about Youth Ambassadors at http://youthambassadors.net/

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