East Lansing High School student group presents academic achievement action plan to school board

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Photo by Erin Hampton
Nyla Kirkland sharing her experience at the MSAN student conference

By Erin Hampton
Entirely East Lansing writer

East Lansing High School’s Minority Student Achievement Network students presented their action plan to the school board on Oct. 14.

Each student spoke to the board and a room full of adults and students to share what they learned at the 2013 MSAN leadership conference, their concerns, and their future actions to diminish the minority achievement gap between minorities and white student groups in their district.

Ervin Batka, a senior in theater at high school and member of Minority Student Achievement Network, defined achievement gap as the average academic performance in the top 3% of students minus the average academic performance of the bottom 30%.

The students expressed how their actions and goals could be possible with the help of the board, which allowed them to complete their first step in action.

“How can we as the board of education, clear the way, assist?” asked Board of Education Treasurer Nell Kuhnmuench. “You have quite a handful, well not a handful, quite a challenge in front of you.”

Batka answered with gratitude.

“I believe you guys are doing a lot as it is already,” said Batka. “I mean, allowing us to give you student input, I believe, is a huge step in the right direction. And I thank you all for that, by the way, for taking out your time to listen to us and giving us the opportunity to have this conference, because I really want to make a change in my school and I think it’s a shame that people don’t have equal opportunities when we are living in such a nice place.”

At a Sept. 25-28 leadership conference at the University of Massachusetts, the students devised a plan to diminish the achievement gap.

At the conference, students collaborated with students from across the nation who shared their goals and issues. After days of learning, discussing and brainstorming, the students came up with this five-step plan to carry out actions to achieve their goal.

1.   Meet with the board to share ideas and action plan

2.   Talk to principal and counselors to discuss advanced placement promotion

3.   Meet with clubs, cultural alliances and student congress to present ideas

4.   Meet with the curriculum board and department heads to share ideas about adding multicultural themes to the curriculum

5.   Promote use at edmodo for students and teachers Q-and-A to improve teacher availability

Along with these steps, the students listed barriers and challenges to carry out these actions, resources needed, and an anticipated completion date. The plan also included “point people” to help them get in contact with important figures needed to progress the goals.

Batka said that AP, or advanced placement, classes were a pivotal component in the plan.

“We feel as though 5th and 6th grade are pivotal points in a child’s educational career,” said Batka. “We want to focus on aiding the younger students and encouraging them to enroll in AP classes and to excel as much as they can so by the time they get to high school, that’s been ingrained in their thought process that lo and behold, they will be taking AP classes and once they have taken AP classes, they will do well in them and get college credit, and that acts as an incentive for them to pursue a further college education.”

Batka shared the group’s reason for focusing on the promotion of AP classes.

“When we came back together we started saying ‘what is the major thing you took away from that group you were in’ and we all said ‘oh, the enrollment of APs because there is a social stigma regarding APs,” said Batka.  “Because apparently, that’s too far-reaching for them, that’s out of bounds for them, for some reason, and that’s ludicrous. It shouldn’t be. Taking a class that challenges you should never be out of reach.”

Mohammed Zebdi, a junior at East Lansing High School, explained the challenges students face today with AP courses.

Photo by Erin Hampton
Mohammed Zebdi tells the board about how he wants to improve his school.

“A lot of times now, students aren’t being offered that choice to a more advanced course even if they think they can handle it, so they end up just taking standard classes, because they are not informed and not given these options,” said Zebdi. “ It’s not as much pushing them or pressuring them to take AP classes as much as it is offering them and telling them that  ‘yes, it is very possible that you can do this’ and kind of just encouraging them and providing them with the support.”

Caitlin Chuang, Senior cross country runner, said after the meeting that making a change is all about the opportunity to do so.

“We grow up hearing about the changes you can make, but this is the first time we have had an opportunity to take that extra step,” said Chuang.

Andy Wells, principal of Whitehills Elementary School and coordinator of educational equity, accompanied MSAN to their conference and said that it was a good experience for him and that it really brought the issue to the forefront. He also said that the district has been involved in this issue and analyzing data for 5 years.

Zebdi explained his expectations in his final words to the board.

“We are kind of going into this action plan knowing full well that it is something that it is not something that can be implemented immediately, it is not exactly easy or expedient to implement. It’s going to take time and it’s going to take effort, but I think it will be very worthwhile.” said Zebdi.  “By the time those freshmen are seniors we will see some major changes in the way the school culture is. It will be a lot more welcoming; it will be a lot more accepting. I think being a high achieving successful student would be much more accepted, and much more admired by the time we are done with this.”

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