Ask and ye shall receive. Last week, the Delta County Planning Department and the Delta County School District joined forces and solicited the opinions of Cedaredge High School students in an effort to better direct strategic planning within both entities. Administrative staff from the two agencies got what they asked for -- an earful, from a group of engaged, thoughtful and refreshingly honest kids.
The students at CHS didn't hold anything back. One group, asked to share concerns they had about their school, criticized the lack of mental health care within the school, saying that they needed more education on how to deal with stress and depression. Students also spoke about the lack of informative sex education so students can make healthy choices. "We should at least be educated about it," one girl said.
Students also spoke about hiring practices within the school district. "This school focuses too much on sports," said a student. "They hire teachers who are unfit for the job, just so they can be sports coaches." Students also asked for a wider variety of class offerings, specifically asking for more AP, STEM, programming and electives classes.
Another concern, about both the schools and the county in general, is the lack of modernization and technological access. "Cedaredge is living in the past. We're behind the times," said a student. "There is a disconnect from modernization." Students spoke about the lack of technology in the classrooms, but also about the lack of technology and tech services available in the private and professional sectors in the community.
One question asked students if they planned to live in Delta County after graduation. The answer was an overwhelming no. A lack of jobs -- jobs that pay enough to support a family -- are few and far between, students said, and most are already making plans to leave after high school in search of a brighter future.
Within the community, and the county, the students said they'd like to see some other recreational opportunities and activities besides outdoor recreation. "There is nothing to do in Cedaredge outside of the outdoors," said a student. Students asked for multi-generational activities within town, so people don't have to drive to Delta, Montrose or Grand Junction to find family-friendly entertainment venues.
Students also asked for better access to scholarships. "We need more help applying for college, and with the financial stuff," one student said. "I think we could do a better job of preparing people for real life," offered another.
It wasn't all negative, though. Students praised the community for its support of students and school activities, and they said Cedaredge has been a good place to grow up. Students also offered concrete solutions on how to address some of the gaps in their education. When talking about the lack of life skills-types of classes, student suggested part-time instructors be found within the community, such as partnering with a local bank to teach students how to budget and balance a checkbook.
"You guys were very thoughtful. We're going to have to process a little bit," superintendent Caryn Gibson said after all student groups had presented.
"They're more aware of things than we give them credit for," said Amanda Cerise, the counselor at CHS.
"It's really amazing to watch this process," said Elyse Ackerman-Casselberry as she observed a group of students discussing what would make the community a better place to live. She serves as Delta County's community and economic development director, and is overseeing the county's master plan update process. "To watch these students, the way they're able to come together and talk about their ideas, where everybody's ideas are valid, and they're here to listen to each other and they're open to discussion -- it's pretty amazing. I think we as adults forget how to do this."
School board members Pete Blair, Ron Germann and Richard Hypio were in attendance to listen to students. Germann asked students if they felt they had enough participation with the technical college. Of all the students in the room, only one is taking classes at TCR; students noted that transportation was an issue, and that tech college classes often conflict with their high school classes. Blair asked if students would be interested in more business classes at CHS; students responded enthusiastically, asking for classes on entrepreneurship and management.
"I enjoyed their honesty," Blair said. "I think they gave us some positive stuff, but they also gave us some negative stuff, which we need to know about."