Courtney Fogle, 14, likes school, but she’s concerned that other kids don’t take it seriously.
“It’s fun to me,” Fogle said. “I like to learn new things [but] kids don’t care. I don’t know what it is, [but] they just don’t feel like it matters. They joke around about not going to college and not caring about their future and it really bugs me.”
Fogle, who just completed her eighth grade year at Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, was one of several female students from middle and high schools across the Mountain State who shared their concerns about education with officials representing West Virginia’s Department of Education and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office Tuesday. Topics ranged from use of technology in the classroom to standardized testing.
The seven students are currently participating in Camp Steele, a program offered by the nonprofit High Rocks, held in Pocahontas County, and made the journey to Charleston as part of the camp’s “Social Movement – Education” class. The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia assisted High Rocks with organizing the Capitol tour. Christine Campbell, president of AFT-WV, hosted the campers for lunch and later the campers on the entire tour.
Under the leadership of the class’s teachers, Maribeth Saleem-Tanner and Madison Moreno, the campers brought many questions and concerns about West Virginia’s education system generated in the first half of the camp.
Salem-Tanner, High Rocks summer teacher, said, “We’ve really been thinking about that connection between education and empowerment and that the spaces that should be the most empowering sometimes don’t feel to them the most empowering.”
Fogle added, “What we’ve mainly been focusing on is if there are problems that we see, how we can fix them.”
During the students’ conversation with Mary Catherin Funk, attorney for the West Virginia Board of Education, Heather Hutchens, West Virginia Department of Education attorney, and Betty Jo Jordan, executive assistance to the State Superintendent Chuck Heinlein, the students openly discussed the educational structures and attitudes of students and teachers that are affecting their experience in the classroom. The students later shared those same concerns with Chris Weikle, deputy director of Public Policy for Tomblin.
Nicole Hall, 14, from Nicholas County questioned the need for a large reliance on standardized testing to show students’ development and cognitive skills.
Fogle provided the group with flashcards listing a school system’s stakeholders (e.g. students, parents, principles and so on) and asked the group to place the stakeholder cards in order of those most affected by a policy change. She used the example of standardized testing shifting from West Virginia using the Westest to Next Generation’s standardized tests. After approximately 10 minutes studying the stakeholder cards, the officials identified students and parents as the most important stakeholders.
Fogle said she found the group’s result interesting as the students had identified the two important stakeholders as students and teachers.
After speaking with the students, the officials shared their overwhelming positive impression.
“This was an incredibly impressive group of young women,” Funk said.
Jordan added, “I would like to talk to their principals and superintendents to see what forms they have for student voice in their schools. I think sometimes we completely ignore the fact that these kids think a lot about a lot of things. We don’t really ask them for their opinions or their ideas on how to make schools better ... . That was very enlightening.”
Salem-Tanner explained that empowering young women to make change in areas that they are affected, like the education system, is the point of the 16-day camp.
“[It’s] being able to make an immediate impact in the world where they are and the world where they spend everyday and knowing that they have the power to make a difference in that world,” she said. “And they don’t have to be passive.”
Reach Anna Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.