There are many factors in a student's life affecting their academic performance. WBFO and WNED-TV recently hosted more than 40 students from 13 area high schools to talk about their education. WBFO's Eileen Buckley brings us the first installment of 'Focus on Education: Student Voices,' a radio series leading up to our May 18 televised broadcast.
Breaking the ice
How do you break the ice with a group of teenagers from different city high schools? Send them on a scavenger-style hunt, forcing them to interact with one another.
"They want to know that there's adults that care," said Alan Rubeck, Coordinator of Student Engagement Initiatives for the Buffalo Public Schools .
Rubeck helped select student ambassadors to join the focus groups.
"Working with all these student ambassadors and all these different high schools there's a theme -- there's a common theme. A lot of it has to do at home -- getting their brothers and sisters on the bus, getting to school on time, that sort of thing," noted Rubeck.
Students want to be heard
Students gathered for focus groups this past winter in our WNED television studio. The first focus group featured Buffalo Public School students from Hutch Tech, Riverside, Burgard, Leonardo da Vinci and the Math Science and Technology School.
"We feel like our voices aren't being heard. Like we need more support," said Nakira White, in her second year at MST.
White calls on the schools to provide more support in their learning. "We need them to teach and help support with after school activities. Give us a reason to learn," said White.
"I think that it is really important that we hear what the kids have to say because so often we speak for the kids and we don't take their opinion seriously, and that's what my kids said today about being here. They were really excited about being able to express their opinions and what they think is going on," said Deborah Grine, a science teacher at da Vinci.
Grine participated in the focus groups with city students. "I think the main thing is there's not a whole lot of parent involvement. There's not a whole lot of parent encouragement. When the kids go home, I don't think the parents talk with them about what happens at school, how they're doing at school, and getting them to go in the right direction," said Grine.
Barriers to education & learning
When the Buffalo students began brainstorming about the main barriers in their school lives, we finally started to unravel and reveal what's happening in a student's life.
"The issues you face on a daily basis, someone give me an example," said Rubeck to the students as they began discussions. "Peer pressure," stated one student.
"Peer pressure is huge and I hear that a lot from my students," stated Rubeck.
Students began covering easels with nearly 100 sticky notes. The statements were insightful, they said 'time management', 'problems at home and family', 'student to teacher ratio' and just the word 'teacher'.
"I feel like some of my friends don't like to come to school because they are not motivated by the teachers. The teachers put them down," said Myshaleek Harris, a junior at MST. "What's your point of being here. And they don't try anymore after a certain point. Some students drop out because they have no motivation for a school after everyone has put them down."
"For this to be a responsive and success district, we have to listen to the student voice," said Will Keresztes, Deputy Superintendent of Student Services in the Buffalo school district. He said family support is key to a child's education and future success.
"Parents and students are our primary stakeholders. We need to make sure they are at the table and that we are responsive to them," said Keresztes.
Peer pressure, teachers, attendance & bullying
The city school district struggles with attendance and the brainstorming notes that problem. Social media and bullying were also major trouble spots for these students.
Nuuh Sigali is also in his second year at MST. He is from Uganda and has witnessed bullying.
"In school I've seen a couple students being bullied and then I tried to stop them," said Sigali. "For myself, my parents have been real good to me. They've been always motivating me."
Peer pressure and self also topped the brainstorming session.
WBFO News asked Bicanna Brown, a senior at da Vinci, what some of the difficulties are for students.
"Just feeling like we belong. Like India brought up peer pressure and that is a big deal going on, and student to teacher ratio because we have a lot of students in our class and it must be really hard for teachers to present well," said Brown.
For some Buffalo public school students, just trying to get to school in the morning is one of the biggest daily struggles. "For me, it's like there's no breakfast -- there's no breakfast," stated one student during the brainstorming session.
On Monday, May 4 we will bring you Part II of our series, where you will hear students from our second focus group representing suburban, private and charter schools, with more student voices to come.