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Protest Becomes Tool for Initiating Discussions with Students

By Brandi Herrod,
Principal of West Side
Leadership Academy

Our approach in meeting the needs of students may vary, though the intended outcome is always to advance the quality of their environment, education, and personal development.

The actions taken on March 3rd by a very small group of organizers promoted a situation at West Side Leadership Academy which could have been quite disruptive at various levels. The goal of adult organizers to stage a walk out by the student body, during the essential academic periods, was not clearly thought out. Not only was this an unsafe and disruptive tactic, it lacked an agenda having been discussed with the students. Several young people had questions about the protest, even after reading a flyer outlining “the issues.”

It is the District’s belief that a conversation regarding concerns could have included adults, stakeholders, students, and staff. This discussion would certainly not have been presented as a protest, nor would it have taken place on the day of the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). This is one of the main factors required in preparing students for their college choices. Unfortunately, five tests had to be invalidated. These students are required to retake this arduous examination. I truly know this was not the intent of anyone planning the demonstration.

For us to truly move forward, with the focus of enhancing the opportunities of our children, the students’ needs must be placed ahead of other agendas, or anything prohibiting our constructively working together.

What started as a protest outside of the building became a tool for initiating discussion inside the building. Students have been meeting with administrators in daily forums called “Cougar Conversations.” Their concerns regarding infrastructure, such as the bathrooms and access to water, were quickly addressed with staff stating they would keep the students abreast of the installations planned for later this month.

Students were eager to speak to THEIR concerns, particularly regarding academic rigor. They asked about a more robust curriculum, with AP and more advanced course work. Senior activities are also of major interest. They wanted assurances that these highly anticipated events would still take place. They spoke to their sense of loss due to the pandemic of opportunities to get exposure to new places, other learning environments, and social engagement. A major concern was the assistance in receiving more information about scholarships, apprenticeships, and post-secondary opportunities. These are legitimate and fair questions and requests. The leadership is accountable and responsible for ensuring the assistance of our students in gaining access and providing resources to obtain these goals.

We, the staff of the Gary Community School Corporation, are delighted to hear that our students are focused on academic opportunities and are willing to have their needs addressed during organized, well-prepared, and collaborative discussions. Together we will achieve the resolutions while continuing to grow the opportunities for our students.

Socialization is needed to build relationships, and it can be fun!

Fast-forward one week. A student-led initiative has been realized. In an effort to create a stronger bond with staff, the students asked if they could organize a “Staff vs. Student” basketball game.

It happened on March 10. A great time was had by all, and more activities of this nature are being planned. Building trust and a network of support is what the students want, and so do we.

Are there more issues the school district needs to address? Absolutely! With that being said, let’s not ignore progress being made: a balanced budget, facility upgrades in all buildings and the recent announcement of test scores on the rise. This is clearly the beginning of positive transitions. These measures are not the destination, only proof of progress being made.

Children are precious! Our team knows what strong foundations can do to prepare our students for the world ahead. We welcome the respectful conversations with all community members who wish to join us as we continue to work together on behalf of our most precious assets – OUR CHILDREN!

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