Listening to the voices of Mapleton High School

SSA forum allows students to discuss district’s big issues

Feb. 26, 2020 — “Mapleton, for the longest time, has been that school that no one goes anywhere,” Mapleton High School student Phillip Burnett said.

He mentioned the 1999 film “October Sky.”

“Anybody ever see that movie?” he asked the four other students sitting next to him. “Basically, it was a coal mining town. Once you graduated high school, you were a coal miner. You didn’t go anywhere, you stayed there. That’s kind of what Mapleton is. It’s a ‘You stay here’ type of town. There are some that make it out, but very few.”

That’s when student Opal Burruss shook her head in agreement.

“A very long time ago, it was really a logging town,” she said. “But when industry left Mapleton, the people that could leave, left. And the people that couldn’t, or chose to stay, stayed. And lots of times those people weren’t the ones with all the money, or the resources to keep going in a good direction.”

Resources were the topic of discussion at Mapleton High School on Feb. 12 as 20 students sat in groups of five, discussing topics ranging from low attendance at the school to the culture of Mapleton as a town. The discussions were completely student-run, with school administrators leaving the room 10 minutes into the discussion to ensure their presence wouldn’t “keep the students from being totally honest,” said Sue Wilson from Lane Education Service District (ESD), who helped organize the student discussion.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss $205,000 in new funding from the Student Success Act (SSA). Contingent on receiving the funds is a series of community discussions to gain input on how the money should be spent.

During the student meeting, a variety of topics were discussed that could be either funded fully by SSA or supplemented, from school on Friday for the traditional four-day district, to Career Technical Education (CTE) programs. These topics were discussed in last Saturday’s edition of the Siuslaw News (Feb. 22).

However, there were multiple topics brought up by the students that could not be addressed with funding. These included student/parent relationships, to what it’s like being a student in a rural high school. These issues will take a longer, community wide discussion to find solutions for.

The process is simple: Let the kids speak, print the words in the Siuslaw News, provide the student body copies, and allow the discussion to mature within the walls of the school and beyond.

While some of the statements made by students can seem harsh, the kids in the room also realized that their words were based on their own experiences; while one student may have noticed an issue, it was not always indicative of the whole. The full story surrounding individual experiences is never fully known by the majority.

The one thing that was clear was that to make productive change, the conversation had to start somewhere.

“It’s important for us, as a small, rural school district, to honestly listen to the voices from our community — parents, students, families and community members,” O’Mara said. “I am so excited to hear how we can better serve our students. Only through these open, honest and thoughtful conversations can we truly create a better learning environment for our students and our community.”

 Absenteeism and Graduation

Mapleton junior JJ Neece opened up the discussion at his table by getting introductions.

“I am AJ Moso. I’m a junior and I attend Mapleton High School.”

“My name is Trinity Holmes and I’m a senior at Mapleton High School.”

“I’m Landon Peck and I’m a middle schooler.”

“I’m Kiana Moody, I’m a freshman at Mapleton High School.”

JJ began with an opening question, provided by Lane ESD.

“Over the past six years, an average of 25 percent of Mapleton students were chronically absent,” he read. “Among the six graduating classes, an average of 20 percent of Mapleton students did not graduate on time. Among the last six third-grade cohorts, an average of 27 percent of Mapleton students demonstrated proficiency on third-grade ELA state testing benchmarks.”

Some of the students seemed surprised by Lane ESD’s numbers.

“So the question is, ‘Based on your school experience, what is causing low attendance and late graduation, and what can our district do to help support all students to attend and succeed?’” JJ asked. “That’s kind of an open question”

He asked Trinity if she had any initial thoughts. While she was unsure on attendance, she did have an opinion on late graduation.

“In my grade right now, I’m the only one who passed the math, reading and writing for the state testing,” she said. “So everybody has to do work samples. Part of it is, they just don’t know how to do that. And they also just click through on the state testing and stuff, so I know that’s part of it. Also, my sisters didn’t know the months of the year until sixth grade, because I taught them that. I think they need to prioritize more things, and go over more things, if that makes sense.”

Later, JJ pressed Trinity for clarification on state testing.

“They just click through it, and then they just have to do work samples,” she said. “That’s also partially why they are not graduating. Some people get mad they don’t know how to actually do the math.”

Kiana added, “Depending on what grade you’re in, they give you a paper in the mail to opt out of state testing. I don’t know if that’s a state thing or just the school or whatever, but I know the kids that do opt out of state testing aren’t prepared for the state testing they missed.”

She knew this from her own experience, having opted out of the state test one year.

“The next year the test had changed, and I had no idea what it would be like. It was totally different and I feel like I did a lot worse. I feel like if you didn’t have the option to opt out of testing, it would just be better.”

Throughout the conversation, AJ was carefully writing his response on a worksheet.

“Okay, so I can say something while he’s thinking,” JJ said. “Since you didn’t talk about the attendance, I think I have something for that — block schedules. I know a lot of the kids here didn’t like that. We could change it from a block schedule to four days of the week, one-hour classes. I know it kind of sucks to have block schedules. Two hours, every morning, the same class, every other day. It gets old. I feel like kids get bored and that’s why they don’t come.”

In the last issue of the Siuslaw News, O’Mara stated that the district is always open to changing the schedule, and that they will work with the students on finding the best one to fit their needs. It’s a sentiment the students will most likely appreciate, as all of the students at the table agreed the schedule needed to change.

That included AJ, who read his written statement so other tables could hear him.

“What I would like to say is that I think what our school district can do is to support our students in school, is to go down on our two-hour block periods,” he stated. “Because with one-hour classes, it helps our brains think critically faster than having two-hour classes. Our brains will be less functioning in a two-hour block period so people will not want to come.”

Students at another group, who overheard AJ, began to clap and cheer at the suggestion. He turned to them, asking, “You like that?”

The students laughed, agreeing.

 Behavioral, Safety and Social/Emotional Needs

After an allotted time was given on the first subject, the students were asked to switch moderators to help the students hear a variety of viewpoints. At JJ’s table, Landon and Kiana remained, while ninth-graders Mason Flansberg and Evelyn McMaster joined the group.

The topic of discussion for this round had to do with a survey that asked students if they agreed with the following statement: “Staff at this school are meeting my behavioral and social/emotional needs.”

According to Lane ESD, for Mapleton’s elementary students, 39 percent said sometimes and 56 percent said always. For middle school and high school students, 14 percent said almost never, 50 percent said sometimes and 30 percent said always.

The second statement: “I feel safe and welcome at this school.”

For elementary students, 28 percent said sometimes while 72 percent said always. For middle school and high school students, 14 percent said almost never, 32 percent said sometimes, and 46 percent said always.

“There is a question on it,” JJ said. “‘Based on your school experience, what might be causing people to answer this way, and what can our district do to better support the emotional well-being of our students?’ So is there anything anybody has to say right off the bat?”

After a moment, Evelyn spoke up.

“I guess family issues and trust issues. Just trust issues in general,” she said. “Because if you don’t talk to your family, usually you don’t trust adults or anything like that. You get trust issues and you don’t know how to feel.”

JJ asked why students in the elementary school felt more safe and emotionally secure than middle and high schoolers.

“Because they’re little and don’t have anything to be afraid of,” Landon said.

Evelyn added, “They’re innocent and they don’t really understand. They don’t really understand the concept of life, they just think everything’s nice and pretty and colorful and great. But in high school and middle school, you’re in reality and have so much more pressure. In elementary, they're easy on you, you don’t have much homework. You aren’t that stressed out. Middle and high school, it’s more stressful, especially because there’s people judging you. People judge you a lot.”

As the discussion moved on, Evelyn later clarified her comments.

“In middle school, you feel like you’re getting judged a lot just because you’re trying to fit in and change. Especially moving from middle school to elementary. In elementary, you don’t really care what other people think about you. But in middle school, you’re kind of looking around at people and especially high schoolers. You see that they’re more mature, so you try to change into that. But you’re scared that people are going to judge you and leave you because you’re changing and stuff.”

JJ asked if students were more judgmental in middle school.

“I feel it’s more judgmental,” Evelyn said. “I feel like most of the girls try and be perfect and stuff and they want to fit in. ‘Cause in middle school you want to fit in because you’re new to it. But in high school, it’s kind of like, ‘Eh, who cares at this point.’”

JJ asked Mason if he had something to add.

“I feel like the older you get, the bigger the change gets between things,” said Mason. “Like your opinions. There’s a really big change. There’s a lot of stuff going on with, like politics and stuff, that some people are really interested in and some people really aren’t. And there’s a really big change going on.”

JJ looked to clarify the comment. “So what you’re saying is that as you get old, you’re exposed to more things in life, and you start developing opinions from experiences in life, really. Would you say that results in a higher stress level? “

“Sometimes,” Mason said.

“Why would that make you feel, not unsafe, but not emotionally supported?” asked JJ.

Mason replied, “‘Cause some people kind of feel like their opinion is the one that they need to stick to.”

At that point, the discussion moved toward trust between staff and students.

“I think that trust ties into the emotional stability of students,” JJ said. “Not stability but meeting emotional needs. You have to have a relationship with the staff member for you to feel emotionally stable or safe.”

Kiana shared her point of view. “There used to be staff members that students felt comfortable with, but now there’s a bunch of new staff members. So it’s going to take time for the kids to get comfortable with them. I mean, there’s a few that have been here for a couple of years. But even at that, there’s still no built up trust between them. We don’t really know them personally, either.”

She said she felt frustrated, adding, “I don’t know what I was trying to say with that.”

“You were just trying to say, new staff members means a new buildup of trust. It’s harder to trust new people,” JJ said.

As moderator, JJ said he felt that the students hadn’t really answered the question directly despite the discussion thus far, so he read it again.

“We didn’t talk about how we can fix it,” Kiana pointed out.

Landon said, “We could train teachers to be more understanding, I guess.”

Kiana then spoke about mandatory reporting of incidents, and how sometimes a small issue could be “blown out of proportion” during some incidences while, at other times, more pressing issues were sometimes downplayed.

“I think that this not only contributes to the safety of the school,” Kiana said. “From my personal experiences, when you go to the staff about an issue that you’re having with — let’s just say other students— nothing really gets done. It’s kind of like a slap on the wrist, ‘Oh, they’ll do better next time.’ They give them multiple chances, but it’s never really fixed. I feel like that’s what causes some kids to not feel safe at the school and might feel pressured and not emotionally comfortable in the school.”

JJ respectfully asked, “What do you mean by problems? Like, when you go up to a staff member and tell them a problem, do you mean bullying?”

“For the most part, bullying,” Kiana said. “Mapleton isn’t really known as the bullying school, because nobody really says anything about it. But I know that there is bullying happening because everybody knows that if you go to the staff about it, nothing is going to happen. So then people try and stop it within themselves.”

“And it gets worse,” Landon added.

“And you get in trouble for stopping the situation,” Kiana said.

“Yeah, and it’s like if the school’s not going to do anything about it then …” Landon said, trailing off. JJ looked at Mason.

“Mason, you gotta talk, man. What do you think about bullying?” JJ asked.

After a pause, Mason simply said, “It sucks.”

JJ tried to get him to open up more, asking him to explain more.

“There’s more stuff going on between people, like family member issues or something going on outside,” Mason said. “They’re bringing it in and being mean to people to make them feel better.”

JJ nodded. “So you think kids take their life outside of school and bring it into school, and then take it out on other kids.”

Mason nodded his head.

“Okay, I get what you’re saying,” JJ said.

At that point, the students took a break to move onto the next topic — an in-depth conversation about academics.

In this Saturday’s edition (Feb. 29) of the Siuslaw News, the students will voice their thoughts on student/teacher relations, and how each one is responsible for making learning successful at the Mapleton School District.


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