Students speak, indeed.
Some La Cañada High School students were recently able to speak to campus administrators in an intimate setting about homework, classes, lunch, teacher attitudes and much more. That’s because LCHS has started a program, Student Speak Sessions, that allows students to meet with administrators for frank discussions during lunch.
The program’s most recent installment was held last Thursday at the school library, and was to include only juniors and seniors until interim Principal Jim Cartnal, speaking over the intercom, invited all students to come and speak their minds to administrators. The program began Feb. 6, when it focused on freshmen and sophomores.
Leading the discussion last Thursday were Cartnal and Assistant Principal Jonathan Lyons. Students gathered around them in the library’s Information Resource Center.
Though only four students participated this time, the conversations were detailed and appeared to benefit both sides. This was the fourth session in the program; Cartnal said one of the discussions had attracted more than two dozen students.
“This was put together by one of our peer support groups, our peer helpers, which is a new program we have this year as part of our Challenge Success Initiative,” Lyons said. “They organized this. They came and talked to Mr. Cartnal when he came on board as our principal, to tell us what they think. We don’t get many opportunities to sit and listen.” The initiative provides data-driven tools to help schools encourage students to lead more balanced lives.
Freshman Ali Shirazi told Cartnal and Lyons that ever since winter break ended Jan. 8, he has received a project or test in every class period he has.
“Then every time those projects or tests were finished, they start again by giving out more homework,” Shirazi said. “I just feel like it would help a lot if the teachers would talk to each other about how much homework they are giving. In a four-day weekend, I have two tests [to prepare for]. I also have a project and I also have a speech to do on Tuesday.”
Cartnal acknowledged that Shirazi had a “fair amount” of work to do and that he understood. He asked him if in general he had time to prepare for homework and projects and went to work promptly or if he waited until everything was due.
Shirazi responded that he felt as if all the homework he had been given for the four-day weekend was assigned that day or the day before.
“I’m not saying it’s particularly tough for me,” Shirazi said. “But I know a lot of students are going away this [Presidents Day] weekend, and I’m wondering if they’re going to be able to manage.” Ultimately, he said, teachers should be aware of how they’re assigning homework and talk with each other.
Another student, junior Thomas Kiely, said it was “impractical” to ask every high school teacher to talk to one another about their different courses, unlike in elementary or middle school.
“While I wish we didn’t have that problem, I’m not super sure that having teachers talk to each other will be a solution that will be easy, unfortunately,” Kiely said.
Shirazi and freshman Seojin Yun both said they are concerned about a “lunch switch.” They were referring to the 11:40 lunch period for 9th- through 12th-graders; formerly it was scheduled an hour later. Lyons told The Outlook that many older students would prefer the 12:40 slot and that administrators are still discussing it.
“With the lunch time being new, I just feel like it will take a long time to get used to it,” Shirazi said. Yun agreed, and also asked why advanced math and science classes had different names than previously.
“It’s because we’re talking about a change in [state] standards from English language arts to science in the next two years,” Cartnal said. “The subject doesn’t change. It’s still science.”
Junior Grey Ingrassia said he felt “kind of scared” to bring up his feeling that there were teachers who don’t want kids to succeed. He said he’d heard of a class in which multiple students were not finishing their tests on time and he wondered whether the instructor’s methods were helpful.
Lyons said teachers can sometimes get a bad rap. He said he felt his students had respected him, but “I can also close my eyes and pick out year by year the kids who walk out of class and go ‘Mr. Lyons is a crazy person. That guy is out to get me.’ It’s not true, but it’s a perception.”
Previous sessions touched on a variety of topics. The Feb. 6 session, which 15 students attended, included discussions on how students can speak to teachers about challenging topics despite fearing the instructor would be disappointed or hold grudges. Such topics related to topics like grades and grading practices and life events’ preventing them from finishing their work.
A session on Feb. 7 attracted 25 students and included discussions about the possibility of restricting off-campus lunch to juniors and seniors, stopping food delivery by services such as UberEats or Postmates, and the lunch switch.
Cartnal said future Student Speak Sessions will be held on March 6-7 and 12-14. A review of the sessions will be held afterward, and one more will be scheduled in April because winter break and state testing will impede planning for additional meetings.
“My intent is to continue to hold meetings that get students to engage with administration and get their questions answered,” Cartnal said.
Students speak, indeed.