SALEM TOWNSHIP — Mt. Abram High School’s 20-year tradition brought students and school board members together Tuesday to share common concerns and goals.

Civics teacher Barry London said the annual town meeting tradition began when he met Perry Ellsworth for lunch two decades ago. He said he and Ellsworth, then a school board director from Strong, realized that students, teachers, board members and community members needed to be able to resolve common concerns and learn more about each other’s perspectives.

Teachers meet frequently with both students and the board, but directors rarely heard directly from the students, London said. He thought students had great ideas and should have input in the way they are educated.

“I want the kids to be open and honest, and I’m not afraid of what any student might say,” London said. “Not all the teachers feel that way, but I want the students to be able to speak freely.”

Each year, London introduces each class to directors and offers advice for a successful exchange of ideas. He asks students to consider offering a solution, rather than simply stating the problem. Everyone should have a chance to speak and be respectful of other opinions, he said.

“Democracy takes a long time, and it can be really boring,” he told each group.

During the sessions, some students noted that the lack of academic offerings hurt their chances when vying with students from other schools for college acceptance. For example, the high school does not offer either accounting or basic computer programming, which places them at a competitive disadvantage.

Directors asked students in each of the four grades what plans they had after high school. Some planned to go into military service or directly into the workforce. Most expected to attend a two- or four-year college or trade school.

“How are you going to pay for that?” Phillips director John Foss asked those who planned to seek higher education.

He said high school students who wait until their senior year to start looking for ways to pay for college will find fewer resources. Students who don’t take advantage of the school’s Touch the Future program may be missing opportunities that could help them get through their senior year with less stress and tools to transition from high school to their futures.

The class is not required, according to guidance counselor Mike Ellis, but the curriculum teaches information, skills and attitudes young people need to live independently in today’s society.

The course challenges students to take a look at their goals and values, college and career options, financial aid, and learn basic personal and financial skills. Students who delayed making choices should challenge themselves, he said.

“Decide what you want to do and go for it” Kingfield director Kim Jordan said. “But have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C.”

Directors also asked students what they would like to keep and what they would like to erase if Mt. Abram High School “disappeared tomorrow.”

“We ought to keep the outdoor classes,” Rich Steele said. “That’s the way we learn where we live.”

Liam McCarthy-Edwards suggested a new building would be an improvement, “if we could magically conjure up all the money.”

One student suggested that getting rid of homework would solve one of her biggest problems, especially if she was keeping up with her grades successfully.

“I live on a small farm, and I’m needed to work when I get home,” she said. “I don’t have the time to do homework, too, so one or the other doesn’t get done.”

Director Lois Barker of Strong asked the student is she thought she could still pass her classes without homework.

“Yes, I could,” the girl said.

Foss said the board appreciated the high school students’ feedback and would take their suggestions and concerns to the rest of the board.


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