Student Panel Offers Insights on Academic Success, Leadership, Youth Support



 Norm Wooten interviewed student panel members (L to R) Abigail Hills, Dakota Peavey, Caleb White, Kevin Lublin, and True Clarion.

During the Sunday Luncheon on the final day of the conference, AASB Executive Director Norm Wooten moderated a panel of Youth Leadership Institute attendees. The students shared their thoughts and opinions about school success, leadership development, and the one thing adults need to hear.

Thanks to Pete Hoepfner for providing video of the panel discussion. The following transcription has been lightly edited for length.

What do you think helps students succeed in school?

Abigail Hills, Southeast Island School District: I think that a good teacher and student relationship in school is very important for both the student and the teacher. It can help the students succeed more. It helps the teacher to get to know the student and be able to help that student with whatever they need—and in any way that they need—to learn.

Dakota Peavey, Sitka School District: Having the relationship between the student and teacher, and actually talking to the students and knowing how they learn.

Caleb White, Annette Island School District: In my experience, what helps kids succeed is standards. When standards have been raised, kids rise up to meet them.

Kevin Lublin, Anchorage School District: The relationship between students and educators is extremely important and maintaining a healthy relationship between educators and students is the most important. To have a productive and efficient education, educators need to talk with students and see what they’re doing in the classroom every day. See what your students are experiencing and be open and understanding about their experiences. This affects how we’re going to perform in our state. Also, having a healthy relationship with peers helps students to do better and actually succeed more in school. Having peers who are encouraging you and trying to lead you on the right path makes a huge impact on a student’s life, rather than being around other students who are maybe not as motivated and may want to carry you onto different paths. So not only the relationships between teachers and students but the relationships between students to students are just as important.

True Clarion, Kodiak Island School District: I agree with what he’s saying. I believe that a big part of a student being able to do what they do is to have a teacher that you can trust. And it also helps if you have a positive environment for that student in your school.

Tanis Lorring, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District: Many students these days feel like adults, especially administrators, talk to you and not with you. Adults feel like they should offer their opinion on many subjects and while a student opinion may be vital, we don’t feel like our opinion is being used in an active manner. Many students feel that administrators should have open doors, as well as open hearts. The open door policy is seen in the in the State Senate and the House. Many senators and representatives use open doors to communicate freely with their constituents within the capital. And it provides a sense of connection with and among their constituents. This policy applies directly to schools and student-teacher relationships. Open Doors allows for better communication and a more trustworthy atmosphere, and open hearts just allows for the administrators to realize how each student is feeling about the subject and provides more sympathy for their side of the story. I also believe that a positive school climate is very necessary for kids to succeed in school. And while this may not be as measurable as other data standards, it is so vital to our schools that our students feel loved and safe every day they walk into the school building, and every day they talk to a teacher they feel like they can trust them. School climate is so vital, and it’s very necessary for our schools. On a final note, the school board. Many of us here are school board members or administrators. The school board should always keep students at the center, whether that’s a student representative, or always include things to an opinion. And a school board should always be ready and eager to solve any and all problems facing their school district, no matter how small or how daunting they may seem. Every student is important. Every problem is important and just as every student is important. So we must be able to solve all of those.

Norm Wooten: I hope school board members and superintendents are taking notes. We want these students to succeed in school, and they’re telling us what they need to succeed.

YLI student attendees Tanis Lorring of Kenai Peninsula Borough (left) and McKenzie Mirasole of Denali Borough were unable to attend the panel discussion in person. They submitted video responses to the questions that have been transcribed and included in this article.

What opportunities does your school provide for you to obtain leadership development?

True Clarion, Kodiak Island School District: There is mainly a one-time trip we have at our school that helps us strengthen our leadership skills. It is a leadership forum. We go to another part of our district, and we get to see all of the other leaders, all of the adult leaders, that are doing their jobs, and it provides knowledge of how to be a leader for us.

Kevin Lublin, Anchorage School District: Being from the Anchorage school district we’re very fortunate to have multiple outlets for leadership development, and there’s a couple of those things specifically at my school. One is a program for peer relationships, where students who are above freshman year level apply and become peer mentors, and they will mentor the incoming freshman class. And that program alone is just an amazing opportunity for students in my district because not only do we have this program at South, but we’ve actually been able to send it to four other high schools in the district. So the program is growing and can provide an outlet for other students to gain leadership. It teaches amazing leadership skills to every single new and older mentors, as well as helps to prepare students for things like AASB’s Youth Leadership Institute and AASG student government. We’re also very involved in clubs, which are very good outlets to not only demonstrate leadership skills but also show the passion that we have in other areas. Through these activities, students can demonstrate the interests we have, both in and outside of school.

Caleb White, Annette Island School District: At my school, we have three main programs. We have student government. The other one is sports. We have team Captains. Those Captains lead us through our warm-ups and stuff like that, and that’s provided leadership opportunities for the students. The last one is group projects inside of classrooms. We have a group of 3-4 that they group us into, and we have to finish the project together. In those situations, there tends to be a leader that rises up and directs things.

Dakota Peavey, Sitka School District: At our school, a lot of things are student-led, like this year for the camping trips that we have for school, they’re going to be planned and led by students. We also have classes that take us out in the community and have us start some projects that are led by just students, of course with the help of teachers, but mostly things we have are just led by students.

Abigail Hills, Southeast Island School District: My school does not provide anything to give children a leadership experience, because our schools are small and my school is part of a big district. On our island, we have the Prince of Wales Health Network, and they started a leadership group where kids from all over the island come together to help the elders. We go out and just help people. It really helps all the teens on our island come together, make friends, and be themselves, which is also pretty great.

Tanis Lorring, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District: I used to attend Seward high school within the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, and Seward was a smaller school. It had about 170 students. So as it was small for our district and it didn’t quite have as many opportunities as do a lot of the other larger schools. So, going to Soldotna my junior year, I was completely overwhelmed by the wealth of opportunities and the knowledge that the teachers had, and the love that they had for their students and their job. Our school offers opportunities such as National Honor Society to grow students within their community involvement. Many athletic opportunities couple sports with leadership and they become team captains hoping to become leaders within their sports, and also developing their athletic skills. So we also attend AASG quite regularly. I am the student representative to the state board, and I possess an executive board position on the board. So I am obviously a big fan of AASG and think that that is a great opportunity for students to grow, and student council is also highly prominent at Soldotna. We have many students come into our student council that are just so thirsty for a way to affect their schools and their world. I truly believe that Soldotna’s student council is a great way for students to become leaders. However, as a big school, I’ve realized the majority of our students lack these vital leadership skills that they need throughout life. And while our student council and our AASG attendance may be great, we are the minority, and we’re the minority across most of the state and across most of the nation. As school board members, as administrators and as students, Mackenzie and I, and all of the YLI students, want to work together with all of you to bring our peers closer to becoming leaders and to develop them more because there could be so many more of us. Rather than 80 kids attending YLI, there could be 300. We just need to inspire more students, and I hope that throughout the years student and school board partnership will become more pronounced and help bring more leaders into our schools.

Norm Wooten: I think this final question is the most important thing you’re going to hear from students at this entire conference:

What is the one thing that you want these adults to hear from you?

Kevin Lublin, Anchorage School District: As I look around, I see an entire room full of adults who have positions of power, positions of leadership in their school districts, in their communities, and in our state. And I think, how did all of you become who you are today? I think, what influences did you have that put you on this path? What have you seen, what have you experienced, to get to this point? And what I ultimately think of is, there is usually, or there always has been, a role model in people’s lives. So I assume that there are various role models in your lives, or in previous times, and someone has influenced you enormously to put you on the path you’re on today. So the one thing I would like you guys all to listen to is, in your position of leadership, in your positions of power in our community, think about who you could be that person for; who you could be the role model to; the student in your school district that you could lead on their correct path.

Caleb White, Annette Island School District: One of the things that I feel as though should be heard is about teacher and student relationships. In some situations, teachers sometimes end up getting cycled through the school. When you develop a relationship with a teacher, and then they move away, it’s hard to maintain that relationship. Having a relationship with the teacher that might just move way really soon, tends to create issues. Maintaining the same teacher tends to help out with those situations.

Dakota Peavey, Sitka School District: One of the things we’ve probably all heard before, but needs to be brought up, is that we all don’t learn the same. I learn differently than Abigail does, and Abigail learns differently than Kevin does. We all just don’t learn the same. If you want us to succeed, you need to learn how we learn, so you can help us succeed.

Abigail Hills, Southeast Island School District: One thing I think adults need to hear is how much the children actually do need them. A lot of the time you hear adults in a child’s life say, “You’re so disrespectful. You don’t care. We do so much for you, and you are so disrespectful.” We don’t feel that way. As kids, we are so appreciative of what you do. We just don’t know how to tell you. Even if we don’t say thank you when you give us food, we don’t know how to talk to you or tell you how much you really do appreciate you. That’s one thing that I want to tell you guys: no matter what you do for us or how you feel, we really do appreciate how much you guys do for us.

True Clarion, Kodiak Island School District: One thing I think adults need to hear is that there are always adults who have a child that they either care about, or they have their own child. There are always kids that need an adult to help them with things, and they may not say it. So if you have a child that you care about. You should just go up to them and ask them if they’re feeling alright or if they want help with something. Because that’s really important and some people don’t know that.

McKenzie Mirasole, Denali Borough School District: When the school board members and adults at this conference look out at their school districts and the students in the room and the Youth Leadership Institute attendees from their board, they need to realize that they are looking right at the future of Alaska. We are the future. We will be educators and senators and governors and school board members and doctors and lawyers and so many things that we can’t even imagine later on in life. They need to hear that our voices will be heard. We greatly appreciate being here learning, growing, and having you nurture us and nurture our love for taking control of our education and having a say in it. And we greatly appreciate being heard, and our voices being valued by school board members.

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