Students meet with superintendent with hopes of making changes in the school

Northeast+senior+Jaelen+Clarke+and+Northwest+seniors+Ava+Berry+and+Kema+Leonard++meet+with+a+council+of+students+from+across+the+county+to+discuss+problems+within+the+schools+with+upper-level+management+from+the+county.+

Northeast senior Jaelen Clarke and Northwest seniors Ava Berry and Kema Leonard meet with a council of students from across the county to discuss problems within the schools with upper-level management from the county.

(The first meeting was) a big eye-opener. I feel like our voices aren’t really listened to.”

— Senior Ava Berry

In the wake of the recent announcement of the $2 billion proposal to make renovations across Guilford County Schools, high school students from across the county have met with county leaders to identify issues within their schools at meetings known as the Superintendent Advisory Council, SAC. Yet students have worries about the meetings, saying the county’s outreach looks good on paper but has many flaws.

“(SAC) is the county’s way of trying to figure out the more specific problems within all of the schools,” senior Ava Berry said. “(They) are seeing what they are doing good, what they are doing bad and what they can improve.”

Northwest’s student representatives, senior Kema Leonard and Berry, were selected to represent the school. Both students had to fill out applications and were selected based on their leadership among the school. The students’ first job was to prepare for the meeting by identifying and researching the school’s most pressing issues. The biggest issue Leonard and Berry decided to focus on was the mobile classrooms. 

“They are supposed to be temporary. They have been here for over 30 years now, but they don’t get counted in school inspections,” Berry said. “It would bring our (inspection) score down a lot since the plumbing doesn’t work. (It) has actually come up in many of the mobiles on to the carpet while kids still had to go to class in (them), which is disgusting.”

In addition, Berry and Leonard also addressed problems with mold, inadequate bathrooms, short staffing of janitors and the lack of funding for art classes, among many more issues.

At the first meeting, students from each school filled out forms identifying things their school excelled in, while also mentioning things students would like to see changed. A list of Guilford County programs that are supposed to be offered at each was also passed out for students to evaluate; however, Berry and Leonard were unable to identify the majority of the programs.

“(The first meeting was) a big eye-opener,” Berry said. “We (discussed) a lot of the problems we have.”

At the second meeting, the group reviewed the previously mentioned topics. Students also talked with Superintendent Sharon Contreras, who discussed the $2 billion facilities plan proposal. Contreras explained what would happen at each school and allowed students to ask questions about the plan. The plan addressed many of the students’ concerns.

The meeting also covered the county’s main focus for the year, Title 9, specifically focusing on raising awareness within administration, teachers and students across the county. The county hopes to ensure students know their rights under the basis of Title 9, due to the fact that Title 9 is not being upheld in all cases.

“(From the meetings), I have learned a lot more about the obstacles upper administration has to deal with and how long it takes to get a problem solved,” Berry said. “We’re doing as much as we can to help our school and make it better, but changes have to be a big group effort within the school and county.” 

Despite being informational, both students have seen problems with the meetings. The students will bring up problems but not get the chance to discuss it. Also, both students agree they wish they could have more control over discussed topics. 

“I care about Title 9, but that is not the prevailing problem at all of our schools,” Berry said. “I feel like our voices aren’t really listened to.”

The pair agree the council still just views them as students and feels as if the value of their information is not the same as it would be coming from an adult’s point of view. 

“I think they struggle to realize that when we signed up for this we see ourselves as student advocates for our school,” Leonard said. “We have gone through a lot of work identifying the problems in our schools and were trying to address them in a sufficient manner.”

Yet with the problems the students have seen within the SAC meetings, the students still acknowledge the effort the county has made.

“It helps the upper-level management within the school system get a better (perspective) of what’s going on at every single school,” Berry said.