The students walking the halls of their high school every day have a unique perspective about facilities, curriculum and expectations for academic, athletic and behavioral performance. It was that unique perspective the school district was seeking when it invited juniors and seniors from Cedaredge and Delta high schools to a student forum. The forum was an extension of the discussions held in the communities of Cedaredge, Delta, Paonia and Hotchkiss earlier this fall.
While the student forums have been conducted annually, they have included students from all four high schools. This year, to allow input from more students, two forums were held -- one for Cedaredge/Delta students and the other for Paonia/Hotchkiss students.
Superintendent Caryn Gibson opened the session by asking students to share the "good news" from their schools. At Delta High School, a large percentage of students passed their first semester AP tests. A new publishing company has been located for yearbooks, so the price will be lower this year. "Super cute" decorations add holiday spirit to the school, courtesy of a group of DHS parents. STUCO is getting involved in community activities, such as the Parade of Lights and the Kickoff to Christmas, and has adopted a grandparent at Willow Tree Care Center. At Cedaredge High School, students are raising funds for an ecological field trip to Costa Rica during the February break. The StoryWalk recently opened along the Surface Creek Trail.
Students then numbered off into five groups, with Cedaredge and Delta students mixing and mingling to answer five questions that had been modified slightly from the questions posed during the community forums.
In response to the best/worst thing about being a student in Delta County Joint School District, the tightknit communities, one-on-one relationships with teachers and small classes were mentioned.
The negatives centered around lack of funding -- a concern that was mentioned by several groups but in response to this question meant lack of electives and class options. Electives should reflect student interests, they said, and should include shop, home ec, photography, foreign languages other than Spanish, graphic design and more.
A lively discussion revolved around politics and the hard feelings that have been expressed in the aftermath of the presidential election. Superintendent Gibson observed that's a problem the nation struggles with.
When asked how they could be better prepared for life after high school, students expressed a desire to explore career possibilities, through internships, career fairs and job shadowing. The merits of AP classes were weighed against concurrent enrollment. A minimum test score is needed to get credit for AP classes and if students don't meet that standard, they feel they have wasted their time. On the other hand, college credit is assured for concurrent classes, but they're considered to be less rigorous than AP classes.
Students also wanted more information about scholarships that might be available to them.
Funding again came up as the great challenge or threat to the school district. Students mentioned maintenance issues specific to their schools, with the road to Cedaredge High School topping the list of priorities. Locker rooms, doors on bathroom stalls, the lack of a library at DHS and slow internet connection were also mentioned.
"Do we have enough technology?" Gibson asked the students. Yes, they said, but some computers are not being used because the software needs to be updated.
The fourth question asked students about apprenticeship/internship opportunities they would like to see. Students generally agreed such opportunities are valuable when it comes time to choose a field of postsecondary study. The need for "soft skills" was also addressed -- from getting to work on time to speaking politely to customers and co-workers.
The final question: If funding stays the same, decreases or increases, how should the school district respond?
If budget cuts are needed, students said, they should be distributed evently with a balance between sports and academics. A CHS student who had done her research cited the salary for beginning teachers and compared that to pay for administrators.
Gibson explained teachers are on a 172-day contract; administrators work year-round and in general have more experience and more education.
She used that discussion as a springboard to highlight the teacher shortage in Colorado. To encourage graduating students to earn their teaching degree and return to Delta County, the school district is making scholarships available. "We want to grow our own teachers," Gibson said.