Sixty-seven high school juniors and seniors from around Oklahoma met inside the Capitol Thursday morning, marking the first session of the state's new Student Advisory Council. They took up the big task of correcting Oklahoma education giving a voice that’s not often been heard in the debate over the state of Oklahoma schools; theirs.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told the students who were seated in business dress at tables of eight to ten, that they were selected from thousands of candidates. They were handed a list of prompts to talk about the issues facing students. They were also provided markers and easels to brainstorm the largest problems and their solutions to them.
“My parents are both teachers and a principal. So I'm really passionate about education and I'm just excited to have an input,” Madison Perry said. Perry is a senior from Central High School in Sallisaw. She said she plans on going to OSU in the fall.
Among the issues, bullying, end of instruction exams, classroom stressors and safety topped the lists.
When it came to bullying, many said they saw it more on social media rather than in the halls. But they opted for more peer to peer interaction and more personal responsibility when it came to stopping bullying before it starts.
“If we come to understand each other we won't hit something, maybe like a nerve, that hurt someone,” Alexander Baron from Putnam City High told the council during group presentations.
On testing, students asked for balance. They wanted to be able to reduce stress on students by having more tests during the year so students could “course correct,” instead of relying on one make or break exam.
The council also voiced problems for their teachers when it came to testing. Many had concerns over teachers not having enough flexibility in curriculum which some said forced teachers to “teach to the test” and ignore individual classroom needs.
“We should shift more of the focus towards learning rather than testing,” Pawhuska student Bradon Berry said, “How many teachers have said ‘I want to teach you ‘this’ but I can't!’?”
The group is the first of its kind for the state and may be one of the most important. Oklahoma's enrollment numbers are on the rise and we spend the *least per student than any other state.
Public school funding has also undergone deep cuts recently. The board of education, last week, approved $47 million in budget cuts and is expected to cut another $19 million in February.
Budget woes weren’t off the table for students either. Some tried to find ways to save money and there was a lot of talk of teacher pay or retention.
“We want to inspire teachers to stay in our state, instead of going to other states where they can get paid better or treated better,” Midwest City High School student Aaron Foreman said.
Hofmeister said she was impressed by the input from students saying “they don’t sugar coat things.”
“It warms my heart to think about how concerned you are about your teachers,” Hofmeister told the council after the presentations.
The students will meet back at the capitol in the spring, where they'll get with lawmakers and may have a hand in writing some new laws.