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Harwood students, faculty work to make school better

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At Harwood Union High School, student voices matter.

That was evident March 17 and 18 when a group of Harwood students, teachers and administrators attended a conference in Massachusetts.

Members of student government, the Harwood Leadership Team and a group called Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together attended a two-day High School Redesign in Action conference in Norwood, Mass., which focused on measures schools could take to improve teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Harwood sent a student delegation to the conference last year, too. Not many schools did, said Sam Krotinger, a photography/media arts teacher at Harwood.

This year’s conference was much more student-driven, he said, and the Harwood group might have helped that to happen.

This year, some Harwood representatives, with students at the forefront, gave a presentation titled “A Call to Leadership: Harnessing the Power of the Student Voice in Leading School Improvement.”

Cole Lavoie, a Harwood senior, was one of the presenters.

He explained how Harwood created a leadership team that blurs the lines between student, teacher and administrator, giving each a voice in how teaching and learning are handled at the school.

The team has five students, five teachers and five administrators. The combined group looks at school policies and discusses ways they can serve students better.

Cole said it is important that the education system is centered on students, and not on the teachers or the instruction itself.

It’s important that students have a say in their education, he said.

Maura Riley, a junior, echoed that, and said the conference was as much a learning experience as it was a teaching one.

It’s interesting to see what works for other schools, and then compare that to how Harwood is handling things, Maura said.

Krotinger said that, even at the conference, it was important that students be a major voice in the discussions of how to do a better job of teaching students.

Students, especially those with difficult home lives, need something to cling on to at school.

One favorite subject can make a world of difference to a troubled teen, and giving students a voice in their education helps that happen.

Krotinger said that, while Cole was speaking at the conference, he saw something interesting. A teacher from another school leaned toward his students and told them, “This is a student.”

Ellen Berrings, Harwood’s student government adviser, was impressed with how engaged the students were at the conference.

First of all, she said, the students were giving up a day off to attend, which is big deal for a high schooler, and when the group got to the hotel, the students spent their first night doing homework.

The students could have spent some time at the hotel pool or in common areas, but they instead chose to do their work, Berrings said.

Berrings is also proud that even Cole — a senior — was willing to give his time, even though any changes wouldn’t go into effect until after he graduates.

As the conference was ending, and it was time to return home, Berrings said a student asked, “When are we going to meet to discuss this?”

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