The City Club of Cleveland welcomed panelists from Cleveland State University and Cleveland Metropolitan School District on August 7th, 2014. Taylor Watson, Michael Sterritt, La-Shaune Gullatt, Anne Galletta, Ph.D., Jayme Thomas, and Carly Evans all displayed their work on analyzing the causes of underachievement in their district through a survey of 9th grade students. Their results prove that students are more than just the situations that limit them, and that it is possible to improve what seems like an impossible situation.
Transportation is the first limitation many students face. Parents are unable to bring their children to school and walking can be dangerous for some students. Most students take the RTA, but even then female students fear harassment and the busses can run late. The school used to only offer free passes to students who lived 3 or more miles from the school, but that has since been changed. Now, any student who lives more than half a mile from their school has the option of riding the RTA free of charge. This is a brilliant example of policy being adjusted to meet the needs of the students.
The same, though, cannot be said for student who move schools often. Students with high mobility are often bullied more and do not perform as well as students with less mobility. Around 40% of students in the CMSD moved schools 5-9 times before they entered 9th grade. School closings, shockingly, account for nearly the same amount of mobile students as moving families do. When students move schools, they are subjected to more bullying because they are unfamiliar with the people and neighborhoods at their new school. The new neighborhoods have just as much an impact in the lives of students as their new schools do.
Increased pressures from adjusting to new neighborhoods set the students on edge. Overcrowding in classes and unfamiliar faces add to the stress placed on students. All this stress eventually releases itself, and often times in unsafe ways. Roughly half the surveyed students said they had been bullied, which is far too many. The media often stigmatizes bullying and conflicts by only showing what happens instead of the reasoning behind it. Often times, keeping students in one or two less crowded schools reduces conflicts.
One factor that has been proven to minimize conflict is healthy teacher-student relations. Tension only increases when students stress over their teacher’s job being on the line if the students fail their Ohio Graduation Tests. Though, when teachers prepare students for the OGT, the students are more likely to have a better relationship with that teacher. The students feel that the teacher actually cares and wants them to graduate instead of forcing them to memorize facts. Often times, teachers know their students the best and the students thrive with that knowledge.
The next step is to figure out what can be done with this new information. Policy decisions should be based on the lives of the students and emphasis should be placed on quality relationships between teachers and students. The voices of students should be just as loud as the community and teachers because it is the students who are most directly affected by any policy decisions. Schools should also be active in their communities so students do not feel unsafe in or out of school. To see the best results, policymakers and teachers should take into account all of these elements and strive to make the lives of students better. Without conversation and proper study, conditions will only deteriorate further. There is hope and possibility, but first the conversation has to start. Change can come after conversation, and at this rate change is on the horizon.