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Superintendent's News

Posted: October 16, 2020

Going to the Source

In his weekly message, Supt. Elder writes about reaching out to students to see how the virus is impacting their learning.

Want to know how school’s going so far this year? Go straight to the source – the students. 

That’s what I did this week during a cyber lunch with about 30 APS high schoolers who serve on my student advisory council.  

And that’s what we’re doing next week when we survey all of our students on their feelings about remote learning.  

Meeting with my student advisors was one of the best things I’ve done in a long time. I spent 25 years of my career in schools, and I really miss interacting with students. I miss their energy. I even miss the noise. I told the students how weirdly quiet my office has been.

The Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, nicknamed SuperSAC, is made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors representing all of our high schools. These kids are true advisors to me and the rest of the APS leadership team as well as the Board of Education. They provide invaluable input on pertinent issues facing the district – the heavy-hitting stuff.

And what’s more heavy-hitting than COVID-19. 

So I asked this smart, thoughtful group of young women and men about how the virus has impacted their lives. What don’t we know about the challenges they’re facing? What opportunities are we missing during online learning? And how can we make learning more meaningful during the pandemic?

A recurring thread throughout our discussion was the importance of relationship building. That seems to be what these young people seek most from us – their teachers, coaches, counselors, advisors, administrators – and their classmates and peers.  

The students praised teachers who are taking the time to connect with them, even in this strange school setting. The ones who create welcoming environments by telling jokes, playing music, seeking opinions, challenging students to think outside the box. As one of my advisors put it, students want their teachers to “try to take away that barrier of the screen.” 

On the other hand, the students were frustrated with lessons that seemed geared to meeting deadlines. They want their education to be more than assignments and due dates. They are looking for meaning, even in the virtual classroom.

Almost every topic we touched on boils down to personal connections – anxiety, isolation, motivation, empathy, and communication all improve when we are there for one another. As one student put it, students “miss that feeling of being there.” As another said, “It’s good to know there’s someone there who wants to help you.” 

Such wisdom. Much appreciated. 

As I mentioned, we will continue to seek input through a short, anonymous online survey to be taken by students of all ages during class next week. They’ll be asked how they are feeling about school, to rate assignments, if they have someone to help them with school work, and if they are having problems with technology.

It's important to continue to listen to what our students have to say. What they think and how they feel can help us all focus more and do our jobs a little better.