On Monday, October 28, 2019 student representatives from area schools met at Springstead High School to discuss important issues that they face. The representatives included fourth and fifth graders from each of the elementary schools, eighth graders from each middle school, students from the two K-8 schools and seniors from all of the high schools. Karen Jordan, Public Information Officer for Hernando County schools, school board members Kay Hatch and Linda Prescott were also in attendance. Leading the discussion was Sophia Torres from Hernando High School who was recently elected student delegate to the Hernando County School Board.
Each of the representatives gave a report on the activities that are taking place at their respective schools. These ranged from school beautification projects and food drives for the needy to Veterans Day observances and bragging rights to homecoming game wins.
Sophia brought up the idea that every school should have a suggestion box for students to submit their ideas. Some schools already have these in place and her goal is to make sure that all schools have a suggestion box. One student mentioned that there could also be an online suggestion box in which students can submit ideas.
The students agreed that there are a number of issues that concern all of them in various ways. For example, they wanted more variety and nutrition in the cafeteria food that is served, along with free water as a replacement for other beverages.
Another important issue is mental health. The students felt that more needs to be done in a hands-on manner to promote mental health. One individual pointed out that students are under a lot of stress due to all the testing they go through, drills, along with school work and homework burdens. Weighing on their minds is the proliferation of school violence, as well as numerous false alarms that have occurred recently.
One of the suggestions was to have a designated “safe space” in every school where students can go to express their feelings in a small group setting when they feel stressed. Other students suggested that field trips to a yoga studio or nature park would have a calming effect and alleviate stress. It was also suggested that more guidance counselors should be hired to assist students with the various challenges students encounter.
A third issue is how to make the transition from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school easier for students. This is a big step for them. The students are outside their comfort zone and sometimes feel overwhelmed. High schools are large and sometimes impersonal, especially for those who may have attended smaller private schools. In addition, many are leaving friends they have been with for several years and have to develop new friendships.
There were a number of suggestions on how to make this transition easier. Some schools already have an open house in the summer in which students can meet their new teachers and become familiar with the layout of the school. The Springstead High School student representative mentioned that at the beginning of the year there is an assembly in the gym in which students can sign up for their electives and also meet the teachers of these subjects. At Weeki Wachee High School, cheerleaders, football players and upper classmen welcome the new students and help them get oriented. Other high schools use a buddy system in which seniors help the freshmen.
Student delegate Sophia Torres has attended two school board meetings since her election and is learning how the system works.
“My most eye-opening experience so far was the discussion of the changes in the teachers’ health insurance policies. It was a topic close to many teachers’ hearts. It showed me that families and children are being impacted by the decisions that the school board makes,” Sophia remarked.
“The most interesting topic that we students have discussed at our meeting is mental health. We have different takes on how it should be implemented, what we should be doing to raise more awareness. There is so much opportunity for greatness in this county and I think we can really tap into that.”
The students will bring back to their schools the information and ideas suggested and work to implement them. They will meet every nine weeks to follow up and to work on new issues. There will also be guest speakers at future meetings. The school system should be commended for setting up this student representative system. It is not only a way of respecting young people but also of empowering them. These young men and women are learning critical thinking and leadership skills that they will take into their adult lives.