Student Council presents to the School Committee 2008

Kent County Times

School comm. gets the good, the bad and the ugly from Coventry students  
Thursday, 06 November 2008

By HANNAH CLARKIN

COVENTRY — The student forum is a universally-loved school committee meeting, said Coventry Schools Superintendent Kenneth DiPietro. An annual tradition for the past six years, the forum allows the school committee to hear the thoughts and concerns of high school students as they go through the school year.

This year, the conversation broadened as middle school students came to the table for discussion as well. Four eighth-graders from Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School of Coventry joined 18 high school students to present commendations and recommendations about the school system.

 MIDDLE SCHOOL PRESENTATION (Download the PowerPoint)

 Students at the middle school took the initiative and requested to be part of the forum, said School Committee Chairman Raymond Spear.

“They wanted to know why they couldn’t have the opportunity to communicate with the school committee,” he said. “It worked out pretty well [having both the middle and high school students there].”

The middle school students’ presentation was very professional, said DiPietro.

Nicholas Tromsso, Amber Dyer, Zak Szymkowicz, and Alex St. Pierre worked diligently to be sure they represented the interests of all their classmates, he said.

It was a different approach than the open-dialogue that has historically taken place with the high school students, DiPietro said.

“In preparation, they surveyed all the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students. They presented us with charts and graphs, had a PowerPoint all planned out,” he said. “They were so well prepared that they nearly over-prepared.”

Polls from the middle school showed students love having their own lockers, the dances and lock-ins, the faculty, and after-school programs. They also showed students want more options to study foreign languages, choice in which electives they take, better food at lunch, and a girls soccer team.

For the four middle school presenters, the experience was a good one.

“It was nice to give our opinion and get recognized — nice that we have a voice,” said Tromsso.

She felt very comfortable talking to the committee, said Dyer. “I liked being able to share my opinion and I thought it was well-received.”

They did think the high school students could have been a little more organized, St. Pierre said, grinning. “It took them an hour to get go through everything they wanted to bring up.”

HIGH SCHOOL DISCUSSION

Discussion with the high school students ranged from commendation on the variety of electives and after-school clubs and praise for sports programs to concern about the condition of the roofs and leaks in the building, criticism of advisory sessions, and requests for more substantial lunches.

DIVERSITY

A discussion of intolerance and diversity was a topic that surprised some of the school committee members, said Spear.

“I think that issue really blind-sided the school committee,” said Senior Megan Shaffer. “We had to emphasize that we don’t have a problem with bullying — but we have a low tolerance for diversity.”

It was really hard to talk about, said Junior Joel Hageneurg. “The group that was there — drama kids, band kids, ROTC kids — we’re all respectful and not the problem. It made me wish more groups were there so they could have heard how much this affects us.”

He had not anticipated this topic, Spear said. “We had a discussion of relationships and homosexuality. There was an expression of concern that some kids were very demeaning in their remarks and teachers were ignoring it and this kind of thing that came out I was kind of surprised about that.

“I’m one of many in our society who are not as open and supporting of that fact that we need to be encouraging some of these kinds of behavior,” he said. “So that surprised me.”

The intolerance issue even surprised him, Principal Michael Hobin said “In the past we have had really good comments from kids about the responsiveness of teachers — that was one of our strengths in the past — so I was a little taken aback by these comments.

“Maybe it was just this particular group of kids but — as I have stated with my staff — it is their reality so whether or not we agree, it is their reality and we have to take it seriously,” he said.

HIGH SCHOOL REFORM FEEDBACK

As a bonus question this year, high school students were asked what they thought of high school reform, DiPietro said. From Capstone projects to the portfolio, Coventry has undergone a lot of changes in graduation requirements over the last several years, he said.

“We basically see it as a necessary evil,” said Senior Michaela Tracy of the Capstone requirement. “It looks like it’s improving — but a lot of us had a hard time. It’s only really great if you choose a topic that you love and are really interested in, because it’s so much work.”

The Capstone does “take a lot of time out of your life,” DiPietro said. Students expressed that “it takes a lot of time and you’re very tired when you’re done. Also, in high school reform, not every teacher appears to understand or show the same level of support.”

“I think it was harder for people my year and last year,” said Senior Megan Shaffer. “When we were freshmen, people were talking about it but they told us it would just blow over. But it didn’t — so it was a lot of work last year.”

The portfolio can tend to be a little redundant, Tracy observed. “You have to include three tasks — which are tests or essays that your teacher deems adequate —from each class each year of high school — that’s a lot to compile.”

“You have to write a reflection for every one,” added Hageneurg. “By the end, that’s a lot of reflections.”

When the dialogue was over, they wished the school committee had dialogued with them a little more, said Tracy, Shaffer and Hageneurg.

“I just wish we got more feedback,” Shaffer said. “They didn’t comment at all on what we said. I feel like they’re not going to change anything. We all had our little piece to throw in — but there were no promises and the school committee just looked surprised the whole time.”

If the changes do happen, Tracy said, “none of them will happen when we’re here.”

“I would have liked [the school committee] to just respond some,” Shaffer said. “There’s a lot of stuff that we brought up.”

Overall, however, “the good stuff about Coventry High School outweighs the bad,” Hageneurg said. “We have so many opportunities here. We have culinary school and ROTC and people get on buses from North Kingston because some of the classes we take here you can’t get anywhere else.”

Overall, the discussion was fruitful for the school committee as well, Spear said. “I thought it went very, very well and I was impressed with the quality of their considerations. They did a very fine job and some information came forth that gives the principals some things to work on to help deal with the situation.”

QUOTES:

“The co-curricular activities are great and well-supported here. There are a lot of groups present — I’m on student council and music and those are both excellent programs,” Michaela Tracy, Senior

“A lot of us would like to see the advisory block better managed. Sometimes it is utilized well and sometimes there is nothing planned and it just turns into a study hall. It’s inconsistent.” – Michaela Tracy, Senior

“Sports are really good here. It helps us get to know people in other grades and breaks down hostility between class groups.” – Megan Shaffer, Senior (photo)

“I have mold allergies so the leaks and the condition of the ceilings are really hard for me sometimes; I can’t spend a lot of time in musty rooms without feeling sick.” – Megan Shaffer, Senior

“ROTC has been great at this school. You learn all the stuff you wouldn’t learn in classes and get close to everyone else in it.” – Joel Hageneurg, Junior (photo)

“Lunch is too small for what we pay. One slice of pizza is $2.50 and a water is $1.50. The only thing that’s free is milk — and I can’t drink milk — and I am never full after lunch.” – Joel Hageneurg, Junior

“I like the dances, the lockers, the lock-ins, and the after-school program here at the middle school” – Amber Dyer, 8th grade

“The faculty and staff here are nice and they’re involved in everything,” – Nicholas Tromsso, 8th

“I would like to have better lunches. Our lunch is horrible. The pizza tastes like cardboard and the French fries are either burned or frozen and raw.” – Nicholas Tromsso, 8th

“I would like to see different levels of academics — like an honors program — and a choice of languages — not just Spanish but French and Italian too.” – Alex St. Pierre, 8th

“I would like to see a girls soccer team. The co-ed team takes opportunities away from both boys and girls and it’s one of the last co-ed teams in the state. If we had a girls team, more boys and girls could play.”- Zak Szymkowicz, 8th