What I learned from listening to students

COVID-19 Resources and Updates, Student Voices | 06/18/2020

Havivah Giangreco
Volunteer, Stand for Children Washington and Class of 2020 Graduate, Spokane School District

My name is Havivah, I am a Stand for Children volunteer and a 2020 graduate of the Spokane Public Schools system. I am the oldest of four with siblings spread throughout local elementary and middle schools and an active member in my community. I wanted to lead our recent Student Listening Session to provide Washington students an opportunity to speak up about their current situations regarding COVID-19 school closures. The goal was to allow high school students to anonymously share their experiences concerning continued online education during quarantine, with Stand staff and volunteers collecting their stories in order to initiate real change with policymakers in support of students. 

My role as a Stand volunteer has been to facilitate the conversation and engage my peers in the process of advocacy while listening to their stories. After hearing from students, I wanted to share more about our process and the highlights of what we’ve heard so far.

Our collection began with a survey to get a general understanding of how students have been affected by building closures. We then offered a Zoom “Student Listening Session” to provide a live conversational platform for student-based dialogue. Many participating students expressed a desire to share their experiences in other capacities but found a lack of opportunity. It was evident that students itched to share, but had no options to prior to this call and in some cases even felt ignored. In the words of one Washington state 12th grader, “I joined because I think it was kind of cool having a space for students to speak out since we haven't really had a platform for us to speak on what's happening right now.”

Students also expressed that the current systems for distance learning pose a number of challenges. As a 2020 graduate, my main focus was finishing my requirements and graduating, but for the underclassmen, their concern for what’s next was apparent. As one tenth-grader shared, “it's just kind of nerve wracking about like making sure I can get all my credits in.” There was a general feeling that classes seemed disorganized and that teachers faced difficulties altering their teaching styles to accommodate these unprecedented circumstances. With an unclear future and frazzled teachers, it's no surprise many students said they were struggling. In a Zoom poll we took during the call, nearly half of participants said their workload right now felt ‘excessive’.

One tenth-grader expanded on why her workload felt overwhelming: “On top of everything else hard to keep up with is figuring out where the assignments are gonna be and how you're supposed to turn them in and all that kind of stuff. So just dealing with the logistics of that probably takes me at least an hour or two every week.” On top of the universal uncertainty and school obligations, many students have additional responsibilities. Another student is “managing taking care of [their] siblings and doing classes.” As the eldest, I too have had childcare responsibilities which can be difficult to balance with school when my siblings' educations are also a top priority.

In our online survey, the 60 responses were split relatively evenly between the east and west sides of Washington, and yet their stories were surprisingly similar. In the survey, students from multiple districts were frustrated by unclear expectations from teachers around grading and due dates, confusing systems for submitting their homework, and inconsistent communication from different administrations. 

Additionally, across both the Zoom meeting and the survey, students expressed struggling with their mental health. 84% of our listening session participants said they definitely or probably are going to need more support from a school counselor in the fall. In written responses, mental health came up repeatedly as a central concern for students and they worried that counseling and mental health support were not adequate, given the toll that the pandemic has taken on them.

The conversation left me confident that our community's youth need more opportunities to discuss and brainstorm how we can better provide education for all. As a result of this we are inviting Washington students back to a brainstorming session in preparation for a Q&A with Superintendent Reykdal (see details below). Our students need a place to voice their experiences and gain support, and we intend to give them just that.

 

Student Brainstorming Session: Re-opening and Re-imagining Schools

Monday, July 13, 12PM-1PM 

(This will be a student-led and student-centered space – if you are not currently a high school student, we kindly ask that you do not register to join us.)

Register at bit.ly/wastudentbrainstorm

High school students from across Washington are invited to join a brainstorming session about re-opening and re-imagining our schools. During Stand for Children’s first Student listening Session in May, students made it clear that they did not have enough opportunities to share their voice. This meeting is an opportunity for students to brainstorm and share ideas for how they can be better served by their schools. It will also be focused on brainstorming questions in preparation for a Student-led Q&A with State Superintendent Chris Reykdal happening on July 27.

For the first 30 students who register and also attend, your time will be compensated with a $25 gift card to Amazon.

Student-led Q&A with Superintendent Reykdal

Monday, July 27, 2PM-3PM

Register at bit.ly/wastudentquestions

As we prepare for a new school year in a time of COVID-19 and ongoing conversations about racial justice and equity in education, Superintendent Chris Reykdal will answer questions from Washington high school students about what school will look like in 2020-21.  This will be a student-led discussion about how our opportunity to reimagine schools as we reopen their doors.

All are encouraged to join.

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  • J am very proud of my granddaughter for taking on this project and for writing an incredibly poised and thoughtful report. Havivah always amazes me with her maturity, intellect and compassion.
    Anthony Giangreco

    June 19, 2020 1:17 PM

  • I really appreciate this very well written, clear communication summarizing how high school students are being affected by online classes and the challenges they are facing with unclear expectations, instruction that poses difficulties for teacher and thus for students, difficulty submitting assignments, and mental health challenges for which they don't have needed support, and with budget cuts, this is likely to be even more of an issue next year. What a good idea to invite their input into their education!
    SHARON HEIM

    June 22, 2020 10:17 PM