Recent events have again created unrest in the St. Louis region and across the nation.
OTHS is a diverse high school with intelligent, curious, and engaged students. As the adults in our communities and media outlets debate the social issues in our country, it would be naive of us to think our students are not also engaged, or wanting to engage, in conversations on these issues as well.
Some school districts have avoided controversial topics of discussion in their classrooms. OTHS has taken a different approach. We rely on the professional judgment of our faculty to guide learning in the classrooms and student discussions on sensitive topics. There is no recipe for the perfect discussion on controversial or sensitive topics, however, it is our role as educators to always create a safe and courteous classroom environment that respects the voice of everyone in the classroom.
Our faculty has been trained to maintain neutrality when facilitating classroom discussions. When leading conversations on sensitive issues, they work to provide students with guidance so students can understand and recognize the difference between opinion and fact, as well as to identify quality sources of information and those sources that may have bias or lack a foundation in fact. Our educators are prepared for the possibility that students may express strong emotions on both sides of an issue, and are accomplished in managing such discussions. After all, current life events provide a great opportunity for educators to model the appropriate way to talk about sensitive issues, and to encourage critical thinking regarding others’ perspectives, potential solutions, and needed steps moving forward.
On another note, OTHS district leaders have been reaching out in the community to promote parent and community partnerships in the education of our students. We believe that “it takes a village to raise a child.”
In recent years, more responsibility has been placed on schools by federal and state governments to address social issues that impact student learning. Though noble in intention, shifting all responsibility to schools has not been effective in closing the achievement gaps that exist. Out-of-school variables and circumstances exist that should not be disregarded. Therefore, the most effective path to closing achievement gaps and improving student learning for all students must lie somewhere in the “village” approach. We must all work together to support our students and to address the social factors that impact student achievement.
During our outreach efforts, school leaders have heard concerns regarding the placement of students in classes from several of our families. Parents are seeking ways to elevate their students into higher levels of courses. The OTHS Guidance Department and teaching staff use numerous benchmarks to identify a student’s skills and abilities in an effort to most appropriately place the student in course levels that will produce the greatest amount of growth and academic success.
However, we understand that parents have additional knowledge about their student and the out-of-school support systems in place to help their student find success. Parent input is valued when course selection for the next year is underway. Parents have the ability to elevate their student to a higher academic level over that which OTHS recommends by completing the Parent Request for Change of Level ARENT form. We encourage parents to engage in dialogue with their student’s Guidance Counselor to determine the best placement for their student.
OTHS is very appreciative of the parents and community leaders that have supported our outreach initiative, especially those that have been so welcoming to us. We intend to continue our outreach initiative to further strengthen our partnerships with parents and the community in an effort to share information, gain understanding, and collaboratively identify opportunities to improve upon the educational experiences for our students at OTHS.