If you want a straight answer, the best bet is to go to the source. Rarely is there a more honest group than that made up of middle schoolers giving voice to their concerns and those of their peers. Select students from the county’s eight public middle schools stayed after school on an early dismissal day, one of the first in the year with warming spring temperatures.
They met with Superintendent of Schools Kimberly Hill to discuss what is working in their schools and what they think can be improved.
“What can I do as Superintendent of Schools to make your time in school better,” Hill asked. “Not always fun, but more productive to help you and your friends.”
Using Plickers — an online tool that allows educators to collect information for real time assessments — as a jumping off point to start conversations, Hill and the students covered topics ranging from perceived teachers’ expectations to whether students feel challenged and are encouraged to go to college.
“The level of work I bring in, my teachers expect me to go to college,” said Mikkaela Harrison, a Theodore G. Davis Middle School eighth-grade student. “They want to see me succeed.”
When Luke Szoch, a Piccowaxen Middle School eighth grader, pointed out that he found it unfair that all seem to be punished for the actions of a few, others responded with “Exactly.” Students told of instances at their schools where a small group of kids will cause a problem, and instead of being dealt with directly, the entire class gets in trouble. Matthew Henson Middle School eighth grader Kennedy Davis said she feels sometimes students with high grades who are more involved in school activities are dealt with more leniently. She gave an example of when she, an honor roll student, was talking to a friend in Spanish class. Her friend isn’t as strong academically and when the teacher saw them, Davis’s friend got in trouble, not her. “And I was the one who was talking to him,” she said. Ryann Brown, a seventh grader at John Hanson Middle School, said she agreed with Davis.
Hill asked their opinion on the statement, “My teachers expect me to work hard.” Of the 18 who answered, 11 strongly disagreed. “If I want something, I’m going to work hard for it,” Evangeline Gilmer, a Benjamin Stoddert Middle School seventh-grade student, said. “Some teachers just don’t expect much.”
“She just doesn’t believe in me,” Harrison said of one of her teachers.
“‘She just doesn’t believe in me,’” Hill repeated. “When I hear that … that’s the opposite of what teachers should do.” Students said they don’t appreciate teachers talking about other classes to them or hearing that their class is being talked about. They also raised issue with students being compared to each other. “It’s not very nice,” Maria Schroeck, an eighth-grade student at Mattawoman Middle School, said. “People learn in their own way.”
The students agree that they don’t believe in the “be seen, not heard,” proverb.
“Some teachers just want us to be silent and have it be over with,” Aliah Brown, a Mattawoman eighth grader, said. “Not all, but some,” Josiah Murray, a General Smallwood Middle School seventh grade student, added. “But interacting in class helps us learn.”
The students didn’t just air grievances. They had positive things to say about their schools. “Everyone encourages me to succeed and improve,” Brown said. Jordan Watson, a Henson seventh grader, said her school has “cool activities” and Mia Bermudez, an eighth grade student at Piccowaxen, said she has “great teachers who are friendly.”
Ashton Gordon, an eighth grader at Milton M. Somers Middle School, said some of her teachers have vast amounts of patience. “I can tell a story 100,000 times,” she said. “And they’ll still listen to it.”
“You’re confirming what we believe in our guts,” Hill said. “You have to care about kids first and subject matter second.”
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,300 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.