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Blog: Friday, February 14th, 2020

Student Voice: Are you Really Listening? (#2)

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

I made a commitment earlier this year to have focused meetings with students in our secondary schools as an integral part of my school visits. I do because I gain valuable insight into the perspectives of our clients and hope to model the importance of engaging students meaningfully about how well our schools are working for them. 

Meeting #2  was with students from Bakerview Centre for Learning (the first meeting was with students from Rick Hansen Secondary). For those of you who do not know, Bakerview is our alternate and continuing education site (as an aside, I find it curious why we use the term “alternate” to describe the things that go on in this school. As you will see below, the students make a strong case that their experience is anything but “alternate”). Bakerview provides education to students who struggle in our mainstream schools and also provides programming for adults who are seeking to upgrade their credentials, oftentimes to get into post-secondary programs. I will not say that all the students are removed from mainstream schools, because, as you will also note below, many of the students in my focus group told me that they chose to leave their high school because Bakerview was a better fit for them.

What Makes Bakerview So Special?

I was genuinely moved by the students’ responses to this question.  They spoke effusively about their school, the adults who work there and the experiences they have had. Here are some of the more pointed comments they made:

  • “We have a great connection to the staff here.” 
  •  “They teach us how to take responsibility for our actions.”
  • “I have choices about how, when and where I learn.”
  • “People here sincerely care about us. We would hate to disappoint them.”
  • “I am respected.”
  • “We get the emotional support and services that we need.”
  • “They use different ways of teaching to help us be successful.”
  • “We are not friends with the staff, but we feel that way about them.”
  • “They earn our trust.”

The students spoke at length about the academic and emotional support they receive from the staff, as well as from a myriad of community agencies affiliated with the school. It was overwhelming for me to hear it, and I wished that some of their teachers could have been in the room to witness how their students felt about them and the conditions they created for them to be successful. The students told me that their school was a “community”.  Someone mentioned that they cook lunch for each other every day, and the group spontaneously erupted in applause.

My School Would Be Even Better if…

Of course, I was also interested in their thoughts about ways their school experience could be enhanced.  Once again, they offered very thoughtful and heartfelt suggestions. One of the concerns had to do with physical activity and sport. While they appreciated the weight gym in their school, they also wished for more opportunities to play a wider range of sports. Some also spoke about a desire to have access to some of the elective options and career programs that were available to other students in the district. They also spoke about having greater access to experiential learning opportunities in the community.

How Did You Get Here?

I was curious about the various stories of the students, in particular about how they came to attend Bakerview.  One surprising observation was that most of them chose to leave their mainstream school, as opposed to being asked to leave. The students spoke about the difficulty of the decision, because they were unhappy with their former experiences and because many of their parents were initially opposed to them attending an “alternate” school. The concerns they had heard ranged from the credentials of the school to the negative reputation of the students. However, many of them had friends who had reported positive experiences which were largely confirmed once they registered.

What Advice Would You Give your Former School?

I asked the students to share the advice they would give to their former schools in supporting students who had experienced challenges similar to theirs. One of the key things they acknowledged was that these schools were large and that it was easy for students to get lost in them. They demonstrated an understanding of the challenges our secondary schools face in meeting everyone’s needs, but the general response was a need for a deeper human connection with adults who they feel care about them.  They were unabashed in suggesting the following:

  • “They needed to really get to know me.”
  • “Spend time with us, make connections.”
  • “Have fewer kids; smaller is good.”
  • “More flexibility is needed. Negotiate more with kids. Give us more options.”
  • “Be more compassionate; listen more to students.”
  • “Try to understand the differences among students and make accommodations.”
  • “Fish cannot climb trees.”
  • “We sometimes need to work at our own pace depending on what’s going on in our lives.”
  • “When need course credit for the real-life experiences we have in the community.”

Can You Name Three Adults Who Care About You?

Perhaps the most poignant part of the conversation was when I asked this question.  Every student at the table immediately raised their hand. Several of them said that this was the main difference between their current and former school. Again, I wished the staff members were in the room to hear how warmly the students spoke about them.

As the conversation wound down, I was asked what I was going to do with the information they shared.  Much like I did with the students from my first visit at Rick Hansen, I told them that I would share what I learned with my colleagues, and hopefully use it to help guide our mission to create more life changing experiences for students. This meeting was hands down the best part of my week.  Thank you, Serenity, Lauren, Alicia, Michael, Rheya, Sam, Max, Sade, Manya, Jorja and Talisa.

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.