By: Dyvor Gibson, Administrative Support Specialist
On July 24, 2018, another town hall meeting was held in Ward 5 at the Lamont-Riggs Library in the District of Columbia. This was one of a series of meetings initiated on behalf of Councilmember (At Large) David Grosso where community members, parents, students, school administrators, and other stakeholders continued numerous conversations to weigh views and sentiments on specific subject matters presently impacting schools. The audience consisted roughly of 35 attendees in total. There were six student-led panelists during the meeting; one of which was our most recent State Board of Education (SBOE) Student Representative Tallya Rhodes – valedictorian and graduate of Woodson Senior High School.
The discussion centered on what a student’s “dream school” would look like, along with identifying roadblocks students encounter within the educational system that continue to spark debate. The discussion also included what forward-thinking solutions would resemble.
Students Pushed or Promoted Through School without Learning Content or Basic Skills:
There was mixed discussion on whether students should be pushed out of school, pushed or promoted on to the next grade where there was clear evidence of deficits i.e. absenteeism, mastery of basic skills, or learned content (based on content requirement).
Councilmember Grosso engaged students to share their experiences on this matter – why they may or may not support policies surrounding pushing students through. Several students believed that these policies actually lowered standards and they had a negative effect on “those students who have worked hard studying to earn their grades and appropriate promotions.” Yet other students and the community touched on numerous factors that supported the push as a “positive step” towards aiding student families with limited resources to include homelessness, and lower income: child care, parents working two or more jobs, illnesses, even mental health and well-being of the students. Finally, students touched on what daily travel looked like for numerous students, including taking two or more buses, constructions derailments, and cumbersome security checks. These challenges do impact attendance.
Students shared ideas on what additional curriculum development of course studies should resemble. Several student ideas centered on including more relevant historical studies (i.e., black history and local government) and other social justice courses in addition to core studies. Other students wanted to have flexible school policies that would allow additional dual enrollment as well as AP course studies simultaneously – beyond current offerings. Students also agreed that having such flexibility to maximize dual enrollment would, furthermore, reduce future college cost for students with families of limited resources and lower incomes.
Suspension and Attendance:
Whether in-school or out-of-school suspension, numerous students and communities agreed that attendance is a high priority for the District, well beyond data released showing inconsistencies with Local Education Agencies (LEA) use of attendance policies to promote students. Numerous students, furthermore, felt that such policies continue to create barriers to access to education for students, especially in lower income communities. Discussion touched on the recent release of data showing a wide-spread inconsistency in utilizing this policy at several schools within the District of Columbia local school systems. However, students factored in that suspension from school also impacted attendance. Several students pointed out that suspensions were rarely related to infractions they felt warranted suspension such as lack of uniform wear, small infraction where working parents must accompany returning students, or tardiness that added up to chronic absenteeism. Students and the community shared thoughts that mentioned earlier how this topic directly impacted families with limited resources because students within such households are bearing the weight to help working parents. They are responsible for younger siblings – getting them to and from school, not alone themselves, which should be factored within policies.
Grosso pointed out that the DC Council has moved with enactment of the “Student Fair Access to School Amendment Act” futuristically to help address school policies and procedures surrounding this focused area.
Students mentioned that having access to textbooks and technology remains a high focus through each meeting. Something as simple as taking a PARCC test becomes a challenge in some schools, where spotty Internet access causes a less than smooth process. Therefore, increasing the number of laptops and other technology is necessary in Wards 7 and 8. “Additional resources provided to the schools would be a plus; especially, when affluent communities within certain wards have numerous ways to sponsor or raise funds through more active Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO)” was the consensus of all students. Students and community members want to see funds put where they are most needed – to support internal and external program resources (extra-curricular, sports, Boys to Men, Women, and sexual health), counselors and mental health staff, as well as basic supplies.
Councilmember Grosso mentioned how the Mayor’s recent budget will further assist local education agencies (LEA) and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to utilize funds where they are most need exist.
School Safety and Neighborhood Violence:
Conversation covered discussion on violence prevention within communities and schools. All students agreed that there must be safe passage to and from school for those students, who are threatened or impacted with violence, to come to school regularly. Students and the community weighed heavily on how crucial mental health care and other resources are lacking within schools – more is required. Also, students weighed in on how violence has directly affected their lives through friends and personal loss. Some students are not quite comfortable engaging in a conversation with just anyone; however, understanding that there are safe spaces to talk to someone would be beneficial. Students and community discussions touched on how drugs and violence also attribute to attendance and dropout rate, especially in Wards 7 and 8. Students have created groups of support, however, and would love to see this on a larger platform to be most impactful.
Councilmember David Grosso, again, spoke to the matter of funding by indicating that much thought was given and placed on specific wraparound services within schools, and there was an increase in funding of $3 million within the Mayor’s budget to support schools and the Office State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) directly. Furthermore, Grosso pointed out that first, such funding will be placed on high priority to those schools and programs that need those funds the most.