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'We are listening,' school district tells high schoolers

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"We are listening," school superintendent Caryn Gibson assured high school students last week, as school board members, district leadership and county planners solicited input from a cross-section of students in Hotchkiss, Paonia, Cedaredge and Delta. This is the third year the school district has conducted listening sessions with students, but the first four individual sessions were held. A fifth takes place this Thursday, with students from the district's alternative schools.

In each school, student leaders led discussions about school/community strengths, concerns, challenges and resources. Pairs of students summarized the school feedback at the Dec. 7 school board meeting; responses to the same questions, but a reflecting county/community perspective, will be presented at the next meeting of the Delta Planning Commission. "The planning commissioners are really excited to hear from you," said Elyse Casselberry, Delta County community and economic development director, who said the student feedback will be considered during the Master Plan revision process.

For the school district, the student feedback will be considered during a strategic planning session planned in January.

Students countywide were generally in agreement that one of the biggest strengths in their schools are caring teachers who want students to achieve their goals. Teachers who share life lessons, build strong relationships and challenge their students academically are much appreciated.

In Delta, the students value the proximity of the Technical College of the Rockies, but find it challenging to fit in college courses, and sometimes even electives, into a full course load. Still, they would like to see additional options at the high school, including home ec, life skills, sex education and more ACCESS periods, a portion of the day where they can get help from teachers or conduct student meetings.

If money was not an issue, they would like a warmer school cafeteria, an on-site health clinic, updated textbooks, lockers and restrooms, a quiet room for study or relaxation, and additional extracurricular activities, including boys' volleyball, lacrosse and clubs.

They would also like to see more activities outside of school. A bowling alley, indoor soccer field or an arcade would provide an alternative to a current pastime -- going to Walmart to walk around.

On the plus side, students praised the recreation center, trails, state parks and drive-in.

If Delta offered more community activities, a broader variety of jobs and more diverse age groups, they said they would be far more likely to return after college -- especially when they're ready to begin raising families. They recognize that Delta is a very safe, supportive community.

In response to a question about how the school supports student learning, the high schoolers said Chromebooks have been very helpful tools. The school district has invested heavily in Chromebooks with the goal of eventually providing every student with his/her own computer. Advanced level classes and opportunities for career exploration are also valued. Students would like even more opportunities for internships, job shadowing and part-time jobs that would align more closely with their career aspirations.

As the session wrapped up, DHS counselor Shawna Magtutu had a suggestion for students who shared ideas, but didn't know they'd fit anything more into an already packed school day.

"Don't stop sharing those ideas," she said. "If you don't think your one idea will fit in your schedule, let's brainstorm. It doesn't have to fit into a mold for everyone; make it work for you. You never know what you might get out of it."

Ideas were committed to Post-It notes and attached to trees drawn by Trevor Whiteside, a junior art student. Magtutu said the trees that are so iconic to our community all started with a seed. "You are the seed," she told her students. "Your ideas, the energy you created, that's the seed. You're never too young -- there are a lot of things you can make happen, as one person or as a collective. You could be the one that makes the changes you want to see in Delta."

KC Carlson, a senior who helped facilitate the meeting at Delta High School, commented, "I've come to these meetings the last three years, and I feel like each year we get a little bit better at this." While he said it was interesting to exchange ideas with students from Paonia, Hotchkiss and Cedaredge, the small group discussion with fellow Panthers was even more beneficial.

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