This picture is by April Saul. Please check out her work at the City Invincible facebook page.

This week has rightfully focused on teachers, as massive layoffs have taken center stage in Camden. Lost amid that struggle has been the voice of students. That’s why I’m particularly pleased to share this guest post, the first piece I’ve seen that highlights a student from a school slated to be closed. The post is co-authored by Troy Booth, an eighth grade student at Pyne Poynt Middle School and Brian Gregg, a Sophomore at Rutgers-Camden. Simply put, students need to have greater voice in the decisions surrounding them. Too often, we call students tomorrow’s leaders. As Troy and Brian show us here, they are leaders for today as well:

Troy Booth: The school district hasn’t done a good job really seeing what we want from our school. They just ask leaders, like principals and the superintendent’s team, what their thoughts are and we do not really have a say. Even when they have community meetings, like they did at Molina and a couple weeks ago at Pyne Poynt, we are always told to “get your parent to come” and are never encouraged to come ourselves.

Earlier in the year, we took surveys about school safety. This was the only time I felt like I had somewhere to say what I thought, but it was only a survey. I wish they would have asked us more about what could be done to help us improve academically and how we could get more help with our weaknesses.

Brian Gregg: For years the Camden City School District has gone through changes in leadership, school structure, and curriculum. The state takeover of the school district has heightened and expedited these changes. Since, the team of State Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard has held various meetings to engage community members, stakeholders, parents, and teachers. Yet, as in so many realms of decision-making, those most affected are not given a true seat at the table.

Real solutions come from the inside out; if we are serious about improving student’s education we must also be serious about listening to student offered solutions and suggestions. The Camden City School District has an opportunity to engage their students and guide them in the skills of critical thinking and problem solving that are essential to succeed in the twenty-first century. We must give students the opportunities for open-ended dialogue that will help them learn to better articulate and grow as public speakers. Surveys do not suffice; they operate at the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy and only allow for students to respond, rather than offer ideas of their own. The alternative, however, takes more time than the quick fix the state is looking for.

Troy Booth: If we were able to have discussions with the superintendent and help create the plan for our schools there are a couple things I would say. First, I would tell him not to get rid of Pyne Poynt. There is a lot of history and memories here; it is like a neighborhood monument. There are some great teachers here that really care about us and do their best to keep us on the right track. Also, being a real middle school, students get to change for each class (and more electives), have teachers just working on one subject, and allows us to have real sports teams with more students, like they do in the suburbs. Second, I would tell him that students should have more say over their schedule and picking their electives (and more options for these). Third, I would tell him that our classes should have more discussion. When I have classes where we can discuss things, more people participate and bring up things I didn’t even think of. Lastly, I would tell him that tests shouldn’t be the most important thing.

Brian Gregg: Troy is only one of the many students who has an opinion about his education. Spending six hours a day in school, Troy and other students are arguably the best people to ask about what education can look like; they are the experts. We short change our students by only offering to receive “feedback” instead of having them apply the critical thinking and problem solving skills, which they learn in school, to develop their own solutions. It is an educational opportunity to have students craft policies around academic experiences, teaching and learning, and school leadership. Our students have the intellect and the experience to create innovative solutions, alongside other stakeholders, that will lead to effective change, empower them as students, and reclaim neighborhood schools as their own.

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