Saturday, January 28, 2017

Will the Adults Please Shut Up and Sit Down

Saturday, January 28, 2017 was the last and culminating event in the new series of meetings that the Jacksonville Public Education Fund initiated this school year: Student Voice.

There are many voices competing to be heard in the Education Arena, but one voice that is often missing or overlooked is that of our students. JPEF sought to change that.

It created a forum at which Duval County students could express their ideas and opinions about their education.

Based on what I experienced this morning, it was a good idea. And Jacksonville, you need to pay attention.

After the obligatory introductory speeches, recognition of VIPs, etc. etc. we got underway. Three high school students spoke to us. Because I didn't take notes but gave my full attention to each speaker, what you are going to get is my gleaning of what the students were saying. If you want to hear it for yourself, go to JPEF on Facebook or check their website for the recordings.

First up, Ron Osorio, Paxon School for Advanced Studies. What do students need? He mentioned group work/projects, resources like replacing the old textbooks that are literally falling apart, and support services for students experiencing the stress of academic pressure and undergoing anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Second, Jessica Swint, Terry Parker High School. She spoke of the difficulties of African-American students, especially females, in setting high goals and unapologetically working toward those goals. Of a culture that did not expect or maybe not want successful African-Americans. She spoke of how students like her needed encouragement.She mentioned how programs like AVID and TRIO have helped her during her years in high school.

Third, Devon Singletary, Peterson Academies of Technology. He talked about the motivation students need and how important his family was to his motivation to be excellent, not someone expecting a millionaire's salary for a minimum wage effort.

Afterward, we talked at our tables about our take-aways from the student speeches, what student success looked like, We talked about how the community could support success in our schools. Most of all, we did our best (adults) to keep our mouths shut and listen to what the students had to tell us.

JPEF will compile a summary of the table conversations and put it on their website so I won't try to recapture it here. Check them out:

I did talk about how I would do more group projects in my room if I could kick FSA to the curb (my fellow teacher and Duval TOY--how I hate the acronym, teachers are nobody's toys!--agreed). Later I injected into the conversation as it proceeded about how some teachers didn't want to but succumbed to the pressure to overburden students with academic work because of the test.

Yes, I did it. I told my table that my job was to produce test scores. After a dramatic pause, I added that it shouldn't be. My job should be to teach and educate.

The chair of JPEF's governing board was at my table. She didn't argue. She didn't say it at that point, but it was obvious she agreed. She had already denounced the idea of technology replacing teachers. Although her children attend a private school, she fully supported public education in Jacksonville. Not the charter schools are public schools nonsense, she supported our traditional public school system.

This post is probably reading more like writing down thoughts after the event than an actual coherent essay. Maybe that's okay.

I want to direct your attention to what the students said: group work, alleviate stress and provide support, give our schools the resources they need, understand us and help us on our journey, do not stereotype us, have a heart for our disabled peers (two students spoke passionately toward the end about how an autistic child was treated by peers in the school who did not realize said child was the smartest kid in the room and could help them if only they would change their attitude), our schools need more and better resources (when the books are held together by duct tape, for all that's good and holy, buy us new books!)

You should have been there.

At the end, I was filling out my evaluation form. I was looking at the middle section about whether the superintendent, school board, and JPEF were effective or ineffective in giving students a voice. There was no middle ground, the other choices were very's. I wanted to say I thought the superintendent was somewhat effective, but I couldn't mark that. Full disclosure: I went with ineffective as well as the school board because I simply do not know of any efforts any of those people make to listen to students.

Others jumped up for a group picture so I missed the chance to say to the students what I wanted to say. Therefore, I'll do it here:

Your voices are important. Raise them. Raise your voices. Not only in forums like a JPEF event. Write, email, text your legislators. Tell them what you think about how you are receiving your education. Contact the governor. Call Senators Rubio and Nelson. Write letters to the Times-Union and Folio Weekly. I will not tell you what to say; only to tell you to say it. Your voice will carry more weight than mine. As a teacher, I am often dismissed as pursuing my self-interests in job protection and salary. They cannot say that about you.

Raise your voice ... and be HEARD.