The high-school experience has changed significantly over the years for many students. It can be a struggle to remain engaged in their school communities. That was one of the topics brought up during the first-ever “Student Voice” panel discussion, hosted by the Glendale Unified school board.
With a goal to reduce school-related anxiety and encourage inclusion within Glendale Unified, members of the panel, which included student representatives from the district’s five high schools, shared personal accounts about daily obstacles and challenges some students face.
During the four-part event, topics such as belonging, school spirit, communication and attendance were discussed, as student panelists offered their takes on how issues can be resolved.
“We are taking a lot of notes,” said board member Shant Sahakian during the event. “We are very proud of all the great things, but we know that there are things that need to get better, and they don’t get better unless we talk about them.”
Several issues were brought to light, but it quickly became evident that one of the biggest issues is drug use.
“As [students], we’re expected by all of our surroundings ... to succeed,” said Melanie Yervandyan from Glendale High School. “ I don’t think it is fair to have drugs interfere.”
Nathaniel Burke from Glendale High said walking through “clouds of smoke” in school restrooms has become a regular occurrence. He suggested that police officers should make occasional “drug-check visits” as a way to discourage students from getting involved with drugs, vapes and cigarettes.
Several panelists agreed with Burke but said they’ve found that the problem runs deeper than “being caught” in the act. They said they suspect that students involved with drugs and other substances often engage in such activities as a means to cover up deeper psychological and personal issues.
“If we want meaningful, lasting change, therapy is definitely the way to go,” said Daniel Arakelian from Clark Magnet High School.
“Red Ribbon Week is a perfect opportunity for it,” Arakelian said, adding that preventive measures must be taken to tackle drug use.
With mental health and belonging at the forefront of the panel’s agenda, the group moved to discuss inclusion on campuses, as well as the reasons why many students are detached from school-related activities and on-campus clubs.
As they considered different tactics to have more student- inclusion and engagement, some students suggested specific plans.
“Creating a separate student council that goes to freshman and sophomore classes to get them more involved is important,” said Robert Avila from Hoover High School. “Making personal connections, talking to a student that is sitting alone — that’s an impact you’re making.”
Avila also said Hoover High has adopted mentor programs and packets to provide guidance for incoming freshmen and other lower classmen to more easily transition into high school. He said that when students are given guidance, they are more likely to get involved at school.
Janet Louie, the student trustee on the Glendale Unified school board and Associated Student Body president at Glendale High, brought forth a different idea regarding how the district can integrate less-involved students.
“All the [outreach] being done right now is being done to the wrong people. We’re encouraging people in [advanced placement] classes to join clubs. Those are the people ... already in clubs,” she said. “Everyone [at this meeting] is in all these extracurriculars. We should have students that aren’t in anything at all to speak on what they think could be done [for] students like them.”
Louie’s point led the panel to the topic of communication and how it can be improved between teachers, students and their families.
Several panelists suggested implementing apps such as “Remind” and social-media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat for daily reminders and important messages to students and their families.
Hoover High’s Hannah Kim said a lack of translated messages sent out to non-English speaking families causes a “distinct divide” in the community, leaving people like her parents in the dark about crucial information regarding their children’s education.
“I love it when students want their parents to be involved,” school board vice president Armina Gharpetian said. “Students play a major role in [parent-school communication].”
The panel also addressed the ongoing problem of absenteeism and how it can be addressed.
Several student panelists agreed that chronic absenteeism among seniors during their final semester of high school is often due to “burnout” from months leading up to graduation.
Kimmie Blood from Crescenta Valley High School said schools should consider engaging in “real-life experience” classes, workshops or other incentives as a way to motivate seniors to remain in classrooms.
“We need to make sure that students feel that it’s relevant, that it’s worthwhile for them to be in class in the spring semester of their senior year,” said board member Nayiri Nahabetian, who suggested that implementing “financial literacy and college and career workshops” would benefit students.
Gharpetian said she agreed with some student panelists that having some late-start days and implementing a rewards system for good attendance can be long-term solutions to the ongoing issue of chronic absenteeism and truancy.