Virtual public forum: Teach school subjects and life skills

Participants in the Warren County Board of Education’s Oct. 27 Virtual … The community also said that technology and the arts can help students …

Participants in the Warren County Board of Education’s Oct. 27 Virtual Community Forum envisioned a future for Warren County Schools that would blend the teaching of traditional school subjects with life skills to better prepare students for adult life.

The forum was facilitated in partnership with Warren County Cooperative Extension and Warren County Economic Development.

“We want to shape a promising and favorable future for the school system and county,” said Board Chairwoman Ebony Talley-Brame.

In the weeks leading up to the forum, the public was invited to complete a survey on the Warren County Schools’ website which included questions about school culture, what is exciting about Warren County Schools, what is missing, what should characterize Warren County graduates and related topics.

Responses, which shaped the topics discussed during the forum, were presented before discussion was opened to the community.

Survey respondents gave top marks for such factors as teacher/student relationships and academics, but described school culture in terms that ranged from nurturing and caring to inconsistent.

Respondents described the ideal Warren County graduate as a well-rounded person with a strong work ethic and who values other cultures. The graduate would be prepared to enter college and the workforce.

Those responding indicated that they wanted schools to offer a wider range of course offerings, especially in the arts, and more career-based service learning, such as DECA, to give students an opportunity to explore their interests.

Forum participants said that Warren County Schools should include more of the arts — from the visual arts to chorus and band — along with foreign languages so that students can “travel the world.” Vocational education was also listed as a critical part of the school curriculum.

They also noted that character education should be emphasized in addition to academics. Participants would like to see more of a focus on the “whole child,” which would include addressing students’ emotion needs and how family life — such as divorce or a relative’s death — impacts them at school.

The community also noted that inequities in technology access between rural and more urban school districts will have a lasting impact on students’ lives. Some participants indicated that today’s students are supposed to be more technologically savvy than any youth before then, but some Warren County students are struggling with technology basics.

The community also said that technology and the arts can help students before more culturally aware. Activities such as the performing arts can help youth to gain self-confidence.

“I want students to have so much confidence that they can go anywhere and to anything, and can advocate for themselves,” one participant said.

Forum participants described the ideal school environment as one involving the use of books to supplement technological resources, including more field trips, and introducing students to a range of careers. Critical thinking and leadership were listed among the traits that students should develop.

The community would like to see students become well-rounded individuals with strong self-esteem and motivation, who are well prepared for job interviews and are skilled in public speaking. Participants would like youth to be able to communicate effectively through social media while keeping in mind that their posts now can have an impact on their job prospects later.

The public said that parent and community involvement will be a key factor in helping schools and students be better prepared for the future. Forum participants emphasized the need for volunteers in the schools and mentoring programs that will last.

Participants said that the community should join forces with Warren County Schools to improve local education, adding that the partnership would help to strengthen public trust and confidence in the school system.

The community indicated that Warren County Schools must be willing to change its strategies if something is not effective. For example, if field trips are too expensive for some students, use fundraisers to cover the costs. The public also wanted more local field trips to show students what makes their county special.

Participants indicated that feedback from both parents and students is important in building a strong education future for the school system.

Other discussion centered on the need for more professional development for teachers. The community noted that educators may feel pressured to teach so that students can pass state tests instead of focusing on what will best prepare them for the future.

As discussion concluded, Talley-Brame expressed appreciation to Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Victoria Lehman for leading efforts to develop the virtual forum.

Talley-Brame said that the board will use public feedback in developing its strategic plan covering the next few years.

“We want you to have a voice,” she said.

Talley-Brame also noted that the board would like to hold more public forums and town hall meetings in the future.