Student Voices lunches bring out kids-eye view for schools chief

ARLINGTON – Kent Prairie Elementary School could use more money for landscape maintenance, a better traffic plan for dropping off students, smaller classroom sizes, and a few healthier lunch items.

Those weren’t observations made by staff or parents. They were ideas shared by fourth-graders Wednesday during one of Arlington Schools Superintendent Chrys Sweeting’s Student Voices lunches.

Sweeting began doing occasional visits to schools last year to hear from students regarding what gets them excited about learning, and obstacles that get in their way.

“For me it’s the idea of, is what we’re talking about (in the district) making its way down to students, who are the recipients of what our work is all about,” Sweeting said. “I love hearing their suggestions.”

Student Voices lunches attract six to 10 students on average, depending on the school. Sweeting said this year she is adding conversations with the adults at the schools, using a breakfast format to help open new channels of communication.

Sweeting was joined by longtime school board member Kay Duskin and district spokesman Gary Sabol, the former of whom volunteered as a lunch buddy at Kent Prairie. “It has been a long time since I’ve been in this school, but I really enjoy hearing what the kids have to say,” Duskin said.

Fourth-graders Jason Hopkins and Carson Eveland shared plenty of ideas with Sweeting as they munched on free pizza and drank orange juice.

She asked what helps them learn.

Jason said making time for math preparation using flash cards and timed tests has been fun and helpful.

“Our teacher likes and respects us, and she challenges us a lot,” said Jason, a STEAM student who likes playing video games and basketball, and might like to be a car designer using his talents for drawing vehicles.

Physical education is his favorite activity, said Carson, who wants to join the military someday, following in the footsteps of his dad, who serves in the Army.

Carson is also fascinated by the motion-related sciences of gravity and roller coasters. Jason said the Google Chromebooks are a great tool for learning if students use their time wisely.

The boys agreed on a couple of things that disrupt their learning.

“Kids being disrespectful and like talking when the teacher’s talking,” Jason said. “There are kids in our class who like to talk a lot.”

Carson said kids banging on walls and making noise out in the pods can get annoying, too. If Jason was in charge, Kent Prairie could use some sprucing up. “Our school could probably use a little more money, like for repairs, to trim the bushes outside,” he said. “They’re kind of messed up.”

Jason said the biggest issue is traffic and parking when school starts. He usually gets a ride from his mom.

“We need a better traffic system for cars dropping kids off,” he said, adding that only about 10 cars are able to squeeze in line in the lot, while the rest spills out onto 207th Street, sometimes all the way back to near Highway 9.

Sweeting said the proposed school bond on the Nov. 6 election ballot contains improvements to extend parking along the playing field, which should help alleviate some of the congestion.

Unlike Jason, Carson takes the bus. He said the ride is usually full and uneventful, but sometimes “kids play music on the bus, but maybe all the kids don’t like it but he still plays it anyway.” The driver tells the kid to turn it down a little. Sweeting asked about bullying and harassment, but the boys said there’s not much name calling, and classmates seem to know they can tell an adult right away if it happens.

Kent Prairie recently celebrated an all-school expanded recess with games, races and other fun activities when 95 percent of the students maintained perfect attendance.

Carson said his goal is to go the entire school year without missing a day. Attendance is a key benchmark for learning that the district watches, with each school creating its own methods to keep numbers high. Sweeting was happy to hear that the message is getting to students and families.

“As adults we try to do what’s best for our students, but we should never make those decisions in isolation,” she said.

Student Voices lunches bring out kids-eye view for schools chief