In a typical school year, curriculum, grading practices, and general protocols would be dictated in a top-down manner: administrators decide, students abide. But 2020-21 is no ordinary school year so ordinary conventions do not suffice. From hybrid learning on digital platforms to the newly-created Virtual Walk-In Center, new accommodations are being introduced to meet the moment.
Now, new EGHS principal Ken Hopkins has established an initiative to invite students into the decision-making process.
Called the Avenger Advisory Council, the panel will consist of 12 EGHS students selected by Hopkins and Vice Principal Jonathan Mendelsohn, who is also new to the school this year. The group will collaborate with department chairs, PTG members, and upper-level administration in school-wide matters, each party offering their own perspectives.
Hopkins said student feedback was key. Much like a team sport, even the best equipment, preparation, and experience won’t result in victory without a coordinated group effort.
“With any type of initiative, we can know all of our research and throw a ‘perfect spiral 50-yard pass down the field,’ but, if there’s no one to catch it, then it’s not a good pass because it’s not meeting students where they are,” he said.
For Hopkins, student involvement and input are glaringly absent in this equation.
At the end of the day, school decisions are generally made for the benefit of students. Who better to analyze the successes and failures of these reforms than their intended beneficiaries?
Hopkins pointed to previous successes with student advisory councils in previous districts. In Smithfield, where he taught and served as a district administrator for most of his career before coming to EG, student advisors’ input on diversity and representation was critical. Likewise, the creation and implementation of advisory blocks – open hours for academic help and enrichment – had been scrutinized by students.
”Having them be vetted by students was important in making sure that when we started talking about these issues, that they resonate and were going to be viewed as valuable,” he said. “It was a pulse check … for students to be involved in that process.”
The student body seems to appreciate these concerns. EGHS senior Lindsey Miga emphasized the importance of student input in rule making, particularly given the COVID crisis. She noted that student input offered equity, thus making it more likely that new regulations and procedures would be followed.
“A lot of us students have been put in situations where we have virtually no say in anything that’s going on,” she said of how the district is handling the pandemic. “I think if you give … students a platform to voice their opinions on how they think [activities and clubs] could most effectively be run, I think it benefits the students a lot.”
The Avenger Advisory Council is just one of many changes born of the black wwan that is COVID-19. Asked for his thoughts on education in a post-COVID world, Hopkins pointed to recent reports by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) documenting a mass-exodus of school principals from education, in large part a result of COVID.
“In Rhode Island we [school administrators] had one week to completely revamp our educational model and switch to a digital learning package,” he said, emphasizing that EGHS faculty and staff have been working excessively long hours to prepare lesson plans, and grapple with technology. The unsustainability of this is apparent to anyone with even a cursory understanding of a school’s operations. Such exhausting practices rob students, teachers, and administrators of necessary downtime.
“That pause, that ability to reflect and take a breath is so essential for students, it’s so essential for teachers, but it’s also very essential for principals,” said Hopkins.
From hard times come necessary change. The student advisory council will be just one of many opportunities to restructure East Greenwich education, and chart a course for the future. If the lessons of the present moment are heeded, then student perspectives will be accounted for in high-level decision-making even after the pandemic.