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Student Writers Advisory Group members on what they would do if they were on the School Board

PMG PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - SWAG writersAs a single voice in a large school district, students often feel powerless and unheard. But what is a school without students? Students are a school's entire purpose, and because of that their voices matter.

The writers of the Review's Student Writers Advisory Group (SWAG) think that, for the most part, the school districts do a fair job of listening to the students, but there are still some messages they're not getting.

What would students do if they had the might of the entire school board behind them? That's what we asked the SWAG writers to tell us in this month's column.

The writers had thoughtful responses about their needs and passions. Students want everything from more school unity to lessons teaching civil discourse on social media, from career-oriented curriculum to equitable opportunities for all students.

Learn to work with others

As one of two student representatives appointed to the school board this year, I have had an incredible opportunity to represent Lake Oswego's students.

Over the past several months, I've learned how to effectively communicate student perspectives. Many students' ideas and agitations stay in school — in conversation with friends and teachers — but don't make it into areas where reform can actually be created.

And many students seem to believe that they are incapable of changing their school environment, which is the exact attitude I hope to change. I don't just represent myself and my experience, but all students here and all of their experiences, too. In my eyes, every student's voice is valid and valued.

While I joined the board with my priorities in mind (namely student safety), I soon learned that I did not need to feel bound to a specific cause. For example, I've learned about educational devices offered to dyslexic students (who, I've learned, constitute a significant portion of the LOSD student body).

In another meeting, we discussed sourcing and funding of our school lunch program. We've talked about the importance of equity reflected through minority representation in our English literature, too. Now, we're dedicating much of our attention to the upcoming local option levy, which has the potential to influence school funding critically. Many of these conversations I did not expect to have, and yet I have gained immense insight from each one.

Prior to serving on the school board, I did not think twice about the concept of Response to Intervention (RTI) or the significance of a 1 percent increase in our high school graduation rates. In fact, I was very much unaware of the inner workings of my own school district.

But holding this incredible position has allowed me to completely open my perspective. I don't see myself as an individual so much as a piece of the whole. The school board has taught me the beauty of a community in action, supporting its students and faculty long past the seven hours that school is in session.

I am honored to serve this school year and I hope to see student representation continue through future years.

— Penelope Spurr

Lake Oswego High School

Focus more on interaction

The Lake Oswego School District is, in many respects, amazing. We have wonderful, dedicated faculty and intelligent, thoughtful students. In other respects, however, the district can definitely stand to improve.

In my opinion, the most glaring flaw is the emphasis on achievement rather than community. As students, we constantly hear the rhetoric of, "Take more APs! Get college credit! Boost your college application!"

Even in the scant four years I have attended Lake Oswego High School, I have noticed an increase in the pressure students place on themselves to earn high scores and to stuff more extracurriculars into their schedules.

Unfortunately, with that increased pressure comes an apathy toward the larger community of the school — or even toward people outside one's friend group. I am not saying that a focus on academics is negative; on the contrary, education is the best way to broaden one's perspective and to develop one's mental capabilities.

What I am suggesting is that we invest time, not in urging students to take more APs, but in creating small spaces where students can interact and reconnect with one another. Perhaps we can expand the school garden and student involvement in it. Maybe we can provide more mental health services to students. Perhaps we can have a couple schoolwide barbecues throughout the year, not just at the beginning.

This year, our ASB officers have worked to create more school spirit, which I applaud, but school spirit does not have to manifest itself in pep rallies and cheering fans. Small efforts to bring ourselves out of our books and insular circles of friends, to create a warmer, more welcoming environment, are worth more than a 10 percent increase in AP participation.

I freely admit that I too am guilty of this study-centric mindset, and of my utter lack of specific solutions to fix the problem. Yet, perhaps with these issues in mind, the school district can work toward a student body that is supportive and smart, happy and high-achieving.

— Elena Lee

Lake Oswego High School

Create a more positive environment

The first thing that any school board should do is focus on the welfare of its students, not improving the already-above-standard facilities in the school.

There is a lot of destructive activity occurring on social media, and addressing this would be more influential and create a more positive learning environment than a set of new laptops.

On Twitter there recently was a "Twitter war" as #justWLthings" went viral and students responded against an alum's tweet that questioned people's resentment toward their home town of West Linn.

Students shared their concern about the treatment of sexual, racial and other minorities at West Linn High School. While uncovering the repressed traumatic experiences students face was a good thing, the way in which it was done was not.

Instead of being a constructive conversation that could have helped the entire student body analyze and improve their attitudes toward each other, it ended up being a "he said, she said" attack on individuals, accompanied by crude language and false accusations. The obscenity and misinformation unfortunately invalidated a lot of the important points students made.

I admire the attempt that West Linn High School made to shed light on this incident by creating an open forum to constructively discuss these sensitive matters, but this war uncovered another pressing issue — the way we converse with one another online and over social media.

Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram are this generation's principal forms of communication. We have all done workshops or lessons in school about bullying through texts or face-to-face conversations, but we have received virtually nothing on the signs of improper conduct on these new social media apps that control our lives.

I won't discredit the school board's attempts at creating a better high school experience through academic seminar, a 45-minute class once a month about a variety of standardized issues that high schoolers face. But we can do more.

We need to add lessons, assemblies and forums about how to engage in civil discourse on social media. No matter what anyone does, students are going to use these mediums every day. They would be a much healthier environment if the standard of right or wrong were imprinted into our brains the same way other bullying curriculum is.

The world is changing and whether or not it changes in a positive way is up to us and how we impact the world around us.

— Reem Alharithi

West Linn High School

Help students find a job to aspire to

My classmates only talk about their dream colleges instead of their dream jobs. College is expensive and becomes exorbitantly so when students change majors. A college freshman may major in a subject they enjoy. Later, that same student may decide on a different career path and change majors, forcing themselves to spend more money to complete their degree. College is, again, already expensive enough without changing majors.

There is a solution to the problem: students knowing what jobs they want before college. Students should know what jobs they want for themselves, no matter what their parents or anyone else want for them. It is difficult for students to know what jobs they want because high school does not focus on that. 

American high schools set students up for college rather than jobs. I heard that high schoolers in France mostly take classes connected to their career plans. I think that is a great idea.

If I were in charge of the school board, I would decrease specific classes required for graduation. As a result, students would have more freedom to choose classes related to their career plan and be more sure of the major they want heading into college. This way, they do not have to spend extra money changing majors. 

— Lily DeVine

Lake Oswego High School

Help students find balance

If you had asked me when I was 9 years old what I would do if I were a member of the school board, I would probably hone in on the prospect of nap time and more class parties.

Eight years later, my answer has changed considerably, although scheduled nap time sounds even more appealing now than it did then. However, I don't think establishing a nap period at Wilsonville High School is high on the community's list of priorities — and that's alright.

It would be unreasonable to assume that the school board can give every person exactly what they want. The purpose of the board is not to address each individual's grievances but to represent the priorities and desires of the community as a whole. What do students want to see when they go to school?

When I asked around, the things high schoolers wanted weren't material items, but more opportunities for students of all backgrounds. A topic that came up a few times was the lack of balance in school sports — girls' sports often attract smaller crowds and receive less funding. The money is certainly very important, but it would also be beneficial to promote girls' sporting events and encourage members of the community to attend.

Other students wanted more balance in the classroom. Students who learned English as a second language are placed in regular English classes, where they find it difficult to succeed. While the teacher can give them some support during class, it is nowhere near as effective as having a more individualized learning plan. No student should have to feel like they are falling behind.

It is the job of the school board to address the issues that are being swept under the rug, as well as those that are seen as too difficult to solve. Perfect solutions are few and far between, but with collaboration and patience, it's possible to get close.

— Sydney Byun

Wilsonville High School

Allow more time to do homework in school

When asked what I would do if given a position on the school board, one major issue comes to mind. One of the very important issues to address within schools is the mental health of students. Lots of studentsat my high school have reported feeling excessive amounts of stress.

I found the two most common causes of stress to be the amount of homework students receive, and the lack of sleep that students tend to get on school nights. I believe that high school students would be more productive and successful within their learning environments if they had less homework and later start times at school.

To address the homework issue, I wouldn't reduce the amount of homework that the average student receives, but rather add a forty-five minute study period to the block day schedule within the West Linn-Wilsonville school district by reducing each class time by about 11 minutes.

This would give students time to do their homework at school, in an environment with minimal distractions and allow them to get help with assignments that they may be having trouble understanding by faculty who are equipped to provide them with the support they require.

A large amount of stress that students experience can be caused by feeling overwhelmed by the amount of homework that they are required to complete. On an average day after school, I have about forty-five minutes to an hour and a half of homework on top extracurricular activities. Consequentially, I typically don't finish my homework until about 10 p.m. and get to sleep at 11 p.m. or midnight.

I tend to get about six hours of sleep on a school night. When I spoke to some of my friends about this they reported getting about three to six hours of sleep on a typical school night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends teenagers get eight to ten hours of sleep in a night. The National Sleep Foundation also reports that only about 15 percent of high school students get more than eight and a half hours of sleep on a school night. This shortage of sleep is not healthy for students mentally or physically.

Combining a smaller load of homework with a later start time for school, we could help reduce stress and improve the overall mental health of high school students.

-Ainsley Mayes

Wilsonville High School

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