MEREDITH — For the first time in living memory, the Inter-Lakes School Board met with representatives of the high school student body last night when they hosted a roundtable discussion with members of the Student Council.
Chairman Richard Hanson of Center Harbor explained that the board had begun reaching out to its different constituencies by holding its second meeting of the month in a different one of the three towns of the district — Meredith, Center Harbor and Sandwich. While a student, senior Robert Euler, has a non-voting seat on the board, he said that hosting the Student Council presented an opportunity to sound a broader cross-section of student opinion.
"The rules," began Superintendent Mary Ellen Ormond with a smile. "We don't see this as gripe session. It's a dialogue. You can't complain about a teacher," she continued. Turning to her administrative team, she remarked "you can't complain about me. We're going to have a conversation." She reminded everyone there were pizzas, drinks and cookies, then said "tell us what's working and what's not working so well."
John Findlay, president of the Student Council and three-sport athlete, drum major and accomplished student, immediately questioned the scheduling of classes, which he said has left him with difficult choices between mathematics and Spanish while shrinking rehearsal time for the band. He was echoed by Trevor Colby, who also wanted to take more courses than fit his schedule.
Ormond reminded them that between his classes, sports and activities he probably did not reach home much before 7 p.m. and, allowing an hour to shower and eat, began his homework at 8 p.m. and did not not get to sleep much before 10:30 p.m.
Findlay agreed, noting that he knew of students who rose at 3 a.m. to complete their homework for the day.
"We can make the schedule what you want," Ormond said, but explained that in a relatively small school with declining enrollment any system of scheduling was bound to pose hard choices for curious, ambitious students. She suggested that online learning or even taking classes offered at schools in neighboring communities might expand the range of opportunities.
Ormond asked the students what could be done to bring more spirit into the school. Findlay said that there have been dances and movie nights, but suggested more activity like homecoming or winter carnival that engaged all students. Euler proposed drawing up a list and inviting the students to vote their preferences.
When it was the board's turn to question the students, Mark Billings said he wanted to assign them a "task," namely to address "texting and driving." He confessed that "we don't know the rules of the digital world as well as you do."
Colby cautioned that "scare tactics" would have little effect, but Euler disagreed. He recalled a scenario in which, unknown to the student body, two or three well-known, popular students became victims of a mock accident that interrupted the school day. He said that students were "shocked" and the effect was profound.
Howard Cunningham, vice-chairman of the board, asked if electronic devices distracted students. Findlay said that teachers permit students to use their devices to find information in class, but conceded that some students simply took the opportunity to text friends.
When the discussion closed, the students shook hands with members of the board, who along with Ormond were pleased with the outcome of the roundtable, which promises to become a staple of the board's proceedings.