Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Perspectives in Education: notes from the field

Posted By on Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 8:30 AM

  • Photo courtesy of WikiProject Public Art via Flickr Creative Commons
  • Shortridge High School

Good morning, readers.

First of all, please accept my apologies for the delay in posting this installment of "Perspectives in Education."

This week, I'm taking the series in a different direction by including a student's perspective.

Last fall, as the political and policy aspects of the local education conversation were heating up, I sought a break from the adults. I wanted to hear what local high school students thought about the city's educational landscape. An opportunity presented itself when the "What's Possible" series of community conversations began last fall. Most of them were open community forums, but some of the events were organized as closed youth focus groups.

I asked and received permission to attend a youth forum scheduled at Shortridge High School. On the day of the event, I arrived at school where I ran into road block No. 1. My point of contact was literally out playing golf that day and no one at the front desk had heard of this youth focus group. After calling around for awhile, they figured out which class was hosting the event. About 20 minutes after my arrival, I was finally walking down the hall, excited to hear the reflections of real-live IPS students.

I did not find an engaging discussion.

The teacher told me that someone who had come on a previous day to survey the students was supposed to be back during this current period to lead the discussion. But that person never showed up.

Instead, some of the students were watching a re-run of one of the national political debates; others were congregated in a corner of the darkened classroom talking among themselves.

I told the teacher that I'd like to hear from the class on their experiences at school and he stopped the video and introduced me. Then the bell rang.

One student, Rayla Sims, stayed through her break to talk to me.

I offer her comments today as local "Perspective in Education" as a testament to the lost youth focus group with the hope that more IPS students will contact me and share their experiences. I hope that some may even be willing to act as citizen journalists and blog about local School Board meetings and their experiences navigating the city's schools.

Students, your voices are the most important and the least heard. Please stay in touch.

Rayla Sims, senior, Shortridge High School

Sims said she attended IPS since first grade, with a brief stint at a private school, North Park Academy, in fifth grade, and a charter school, Light House, in sixth grade.

Looking back at your career in IPS, what would you say is one of the real strengths of IPS?

The hall sweeps. Because I know here at Shortridge there are a few students here that have trouble getting to class, but when our principal comes on the announcements and says, "We're going to have hall sweeps," there is nobody in the halls, they are in the class on time.

How could the school improve? Do you want to share something that has been disheartening in your studies?

The only thing is our principal, how he had to leave, Mr. Cosby, because he was really close with a lot of the students. And I'm hearing this year that some of the new teachers here are ... crap. So ... yeah.

What, to you, made Mr. Cosby a strong leader?

He did so much for me. My grades ... I'm an athlete, I play basketball and volleyball É My grades, every time volleyball would start, sometimes my grades would slip. With me wanting to play basketball, I had to be eligible, but I wasn't. So Mr. Cosby had a meeting with me and my dad, and we listed out plans on something that can help me get my grades up so I can get on the team. And that year I did play.

So you got better grades and you got to play? That's great! So, what's your understanding of what happened with Mr. Cosby?

I heard a lot of different things. Once you reach a time in a school and your grades are not there — like this is a magnet school — if your grades are not there, you have to leave. And with that, he kept giving students chance after chance after chance. Honestly, I'm not supposed to be here, but he gave me chance after chance.

So let's talk about chances and challenges. What would have happened if they had been hard-line and said, "I'm sorry, you had this chance to get your grades in order, now you're out?"

I would be at Northwest High School, that's my boundary school, and I don't think I would have made it there.

Do you have any friends there?

Yeah, my sister. She used to go here, now she's at Northwest. But, I've been involved through Shortridge since 8th grade. I play cello, I'm in the marching band. I do a lot of stuff here. I would have been heart-broken if I had to leave and go to a whole new school and start over.

Did you sister have to leave because of grades?

No, she had to leave because she got in a fight.

How is the fighting and the bullying? Is civility a word youth culture understands?

The bullying here? There's no bullying here.

Is that different at Northwest?

Yes, it's a lot. I know one of my friends there, she gets bullied there all the time because of her sexuality. With her being that they call her names ... They don't put their hands on her, but they do verbally bully her.

Because she is gay?

Mmmhmm. And she dresses like a boy, so they verbally bully her. She tried to come here, but I haven't got my hands on an application yet, so I have to get one.

If we could do one thing to improve IPS in general, what do we need to be thinking about?

Here, I believe we need to work on the teachers — new teachers. At other schools they need to look in on the bullying.

And I think kids need to get involved in more extra activities after school because that can help them getting into college. I remember Mr. Cosby telling us, like if we apply for Butler and you have one kid that made straight As and rarely made a C, but then you have another kid that makes Bs and Cs but they also play basketball and volleyball or something, more than likely they're going to pick that kid that did sports because, you know, they did more stuff in school.

What do you look for in a good teacher?

One: Knowing what they're talking about. Two: Keeping up with the class assignments. I mean, I know we all have our bad days, but I think a teacher should rarely come to school not knowing what they need to do.

Have you experienced that before in the classroom?

[Note: The following is a summary of Rayla's answer to this question in an attempt to share her feedback without risking retaliation by making her example so specific that a particular teacher could be identified.]

I have. I'm a note-taker and I feel like this teacher's answers are all over the board and it confuses me.

In terms of your intellectual development over the years, how's the learning process been? Are there places you would have liked more support?

The learning process? Our math section here is kind of low. I haven't passed the algebra ECA yet, so I think we should get our math program up so I could, you know, pass. It's crazy.

Are there too many kids?


Our principal, Mr. Law, has talked to the senior people who didn't pass ECA, he's talked to us about getting us our own tutors and afterschool activities we can do. So I'm real excited about that part.

So you don't feel abandoned?


It sounds like you want to go to college.

Oh, yeah! I need to get my volleyball video made so I can send that to colleges because I think, personally, I'm really good at volleyball. I want to play for either Butler or Purdue.

NUVO kicked off an online series called "Perspectives in Education" last year and asked people with insights on the local educational landscape to contribute an opinion piece offering their particular perspective. We had many thought-provoking submissions last year and hope to continue the trend this year. We launched the 2013 series last week with a piece by David Harris of The Mind Trust. Upcoming authors include Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis and Tarrey Banks, former director of The Project School. Teachers, students, parents, Eugene White, school board members, Glenda Ritz, legislators, city-county councillors (thanks to José Evans for being ahead of the curve), academics, byproducts of the system (graduates, drop-outs, etc.) are welcome to contribute. Target length is 500-1,200 words. Please direct submissions to rtownsend@nuvo.net.

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Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend served as NUVO news editor from May 2011 to August 2014. During a 20-plus year career, her bylines have appeared in publications ranging from Indiana AgriNews to the Wall Street Journal. Her undergraduate degree is in sociology and anthropology from Earlham College, and her master's is in journalism... more

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