Greenway students offer ideas to enhance school district

/ 31 March 2012 / jennifer

Nathan Bergstedt, Grand Rapids Herald-Review, March 31, 2012 –

The Greenway school board met Wednesday in Marble with a number of guest speakers who as of yet have not addressed the board concerning their thoughts on the renovation and transition to a single campus: the students. For the past two months, students of all grades at Greenway High School have been researching and preparing presentations on what they would like to see changed in the district in order to further enhance their educational experience, as well as that of future classes.

“I think you’re going to be pretty impressed with they pride they currently have in Greenway, and that they’re really excited to make it even better,” said Board Director Bob Schwartz in his introduction to the students.

The students presented on five different topics: Accountability, scheduling, class offerings, industrial arts, and the upcoming world technology room. Surveys were taken throughout the school in order to gather the opinions of the student body on what still needs to be worked on.

Following a large topic in the public input portion of the board’s last meeting, students Bazil Zuehlke and Al Troumbly, in their presentation on accountability, highlighted the need for greater disciplinary measures within the school. Noting that discipline “needs to come quicker, and more consistent,” Zuehlke and Troumbly gave the student perspective on this particular issue, echoing concerns from the teachers who addressed the board a few weeks earlier. It’s been recognized that a large part of the reason for such inconsistency is due to the shortage of staff during the transition year, though even the students themselves apparently don’t find this acceptable.

Zuehlke and Troumbly also addressed the board on students’ sometimes poor attitudes toward education, as well as cleanliness at the school. The cleanliness issue was a big one in the student surveys, with many who were concerned with food on the floors in the hallway, and chewing tobacco in the stairwells.

A presentation by Emily Kessler, Adri Vidovic, and Katrina Kyllander showed that 65 percent of the student body felt that an education at Greenway was preparing them for the future, meaning that 35 percent felt the opposite. Of those who did not feel satisfied, they were asked what they felt would better prepare them. By far the largest answer had to do with math education, such as the need for more one-on-one time with instructors.

Zach Adams followed with a similar theme for his presentation on industrial arts.

“This past fall, while attending a meeting at a college I was planning to attend, I was talking with the instructor. We were sitting down talking about the transcript that I had,” said Adams. “He was looking at it, and was fairly impressed with the math and science classes that I had taken over the years, but said that he would’ve liked to have seen more time in the shop classes and a larger variety of shop classes taken.”

Megan Ritter, Tim Murphy, and Michaela Staydohar’s presentation on class offerings touched on this idea as well, noting from their research that students throughout the school both want and need a larger variety of classes, from industrial arts to language classes. On the whole, students appear to be interested in more classes which would be directly applicable to life-long careers.

The final presentation, by Shelby Andrist and Zhaa Zhaa Greensky, had to do with the upcoming telepresence rooms which will be installed in the school within the next year. The classrooms, which have a series of screens and cameras that connect to replica rooms anywhere else in the world, will allow students to take classes that aren’t available at Greenway. Though limiting because of cost (as much as $250,000 per room), the opportunity to take telepresence classes will be a starting point for the district to offer students elements of education previously not available. In addition to classes, students will be able to take virtual field trips as well.

“I want to recognize what the students are saying about Greenway and the pride they have in our staff and the opportunities we currently offer,” said Superintendent Mark Adams. “I think the expectations and the continual raising of the bar is certainly commendable coming from you as a student body, and it certainly carries a voice with our school board.”

And to show the technological education that the elementary students in the district are receiving, second grader Scott Griggs demonstrated a Power Point presentation to the board that he himself prepared on Gila Monsters. Griggs researched the information on the Gila Monsters, a portion of the presentation which he claimed was the hardest part. Meanwhile, Board Director Bill Hoeft joked that he wasn’t exactly sure how to turn on the projector.

Following the student presentations, Greenway High School teacher Renae Gibbons, who is the owner of two dogs which have regularly visited the school over the past four years, spoke out during the public input portion of the meeting. Recently, school administration decided that the dogs would no longer be coming to the school.

“The overwhelming majority of my students absolutely love having my dogs in class,” said Gibbons. “The dogs create an atmosphere that is both relaxing and conducive to learning.”

Several teachers spoke at the meeting in support of having the dogs at the school.

The reason for the suspension of the dogs is because of concerns that were addressed to the school administration, both from parents and from staff, having to do with allergies as well as an uneasiness with the dogs. Superintendent Adams said that some people felt intimidated because they were in fact large dogs, Dobermans, to be specific.

“They’re very friendly dogs, so there’s no insinuation there, but they are large dogs,” said Adams.

Adams, Greenway High School Principal Anne Champlin, Gibbons, and some members of the board met last week to discuss the future of the dogs in the school. Especially in lieu of the outpouring of support for the dogs, school administration will seriously be considering what cultural and educational purpose the dogs will be able to serve in time to come. The dogs were originally brought in as reading dogs (dogs which students read to in order to practice reading aloud before a nonjudgemental audience), a capacity which is their most likely purpose if allowed back in the school.