Paonia Junior-Senior High School students believe their school and community are supportive of them. They also want fewer homework assignments, more class options, and more job opportunities.
And because snowfall can vary from community to community, students want snow days to be decided at the community level rather than at the school district level.
Those are a few of the thoughts expressed by students in grades 8-12 last Wednesday during a two-hour, "Student Conversation Meeting" hosted by the Delta County School District and Delta County. The student-led meeting provided students an opportunity to comment on a number of issues related to school and community.
Students believe that the school and the broader community are helpful and supportive of students, regardless of their interests, said senior Mckenna Palmer, one of four student facilitators. The community supports their activities and attends sports events even though they don't have kids involved.
Students also believe both school and community are supportive of their personal growth. Rotary Club of the North Fork, for example, sends volunteers to help at sports events and sponsors youth camps and other opportunities.
Kids also want a safe place to go after school. With speech and debate, knowledge bowl, and a recently formed student coding club the only after-school options outside of sports, more extracurricular activities would give more kids something to do.
Students also expressed a need for things to do and places to go at night. After night games, kids gather at Hightower Cafe, but it gets crowded and can feel unsafe, said Palmer.
In considering the strengths of their school, said students want more opportunities such as a study abroad program. While students believe the school provides tools they need to function after graduation, they want more home economics and other life skills classes. "Kids complain about going out in to the real world" and not knowing how to reconcile their bank accounts or cook a meal, said facilitator Cyrus Malek-Madani.
Because many students live outside of town, transportation can be a problem, especially for kids who aren't old enough to drive or don't have a car. Bike paths would allow them to ride safely to and from school, even if they live outside of town.
A later start time and adoption of a block schedule might help, and could even ease transportation issues, said Palmer. A block schedule could also help with the boredom students experience due to having the same schedule day after day.
Students also want fewer homework assignments. Between school, after-school activities, homework and family, they often don't get enough sleep, said Palmer.
Students were encouraged to "dream big" when asked what they would buy for their school if money wasn't an object. A pool, a recreation center, and a second gymnasium so girls and boys teams can practice simultaneously are on their wish list. They also want bigger classrooms.
Funding for the Flight of the Eagle Project, a citizen-led project to build athletic fields and outdoor classrooms on school campus, is also a student priority. Paonia is the only high school in the district without a track. A new track would allow the school to host meets and be more competitive, said Malek-Madani. "We have a five-time state champions girl's track team, and we don't have a track."
They also want new textbooks, a bigger better selection of library books, better equipment for teachers, and higher quality instruments for the band. They are "about the lowest quality stuff that money can buy. That really hurts the sound quality and performance of our band," said Malek-Madani.
More field trips would also be nice, said Malek-Madani. The area provides endless recreational activities, including mountain biking, hiking and camping, but the school only offers one annual field trip.
The school's advanced placement college-level course program is also helpful in getting students admitted to good colleges. The school provides Google Chromebooks, which students appreciate. "We found that those are really beneficial to us," said facilitator Caden Meilner.
The level of support from school staff was reflected in comments. Even the janitors are very supportive, said Meilner.
While they see it as a great place to live and raise a family, most students said they don't plan to stay in the area after high school, nor do they plan to return after college. The No. 1 reason cited was a lack of opportunities.
Students have few job opportunities outside of those provided by local businesses and ranches, said Meilner. At the same time, the community is good at providing internships and scholarships and other opportunities. "Our community is just pretty great," said Meilner. Just the fact that the meeting was being held and students were being heard is a good example of how much the community cares.
Teachers go out of their way to provide the tools necessary for student success, said Meilner. Students see every day, in every class, that teachers are supportive of their students.
"Our teachers don't just prepare us to make an impact on our community," said Meilner. "I personally believe that they prepare us to change the world."