According to Ringstaff, the first-year venture was a success.
“We wanted to make sure we had male and female [students],” Ringstaff explained. “We wanted to make sure it was racially diverse. We wanted to make sure when we sat down at the table, I would hear from all sorts of people. What I didn’t want was 21 honor students. I wanted diversity. I wanted students from all backgrounds.”
Three students were chosen from each grade level from sixth to 12th to represent their peers on the council. A total of 21 students made up the advisory group. Ringstaff came with prepared topics. Students were encouraged to speak openly on each topic in addition to their own issues.
The 21 students chosen were: Kellye Cawood, Cydney Brock and J.T. Hill, sixth grade; Romeo Wykle, Brian Byerly and Olivia Calfee, seventh grade; Nathaniel Parker, Chastody Kearra Mullinax and Caroline Gregory, eighth grade; Samantha DeBien, Alec Shirer and Emery McKeel, ninth grade; Jake Gibson, Arzu Patel and Victor Barbosa, 10th grade; Noraziah Berry, Monican Allison and Nanea Hareo, 11th grade; and Jasmine Martin, Clay Parris and Tiaerra Goodine, 12th grade.
Mullinax said a big topic for her was school relations with autistic students.
“We discussed how people treat [autistic students], because I don’t like the way they do,” said Brock. “It’s like [students] don’t really care about them. They just leave them out.”
Mullinax suggested increasing the number of functions involving autistic students.
Ringstaff mentioned issues involving students with special needs are more prevalent in middle school.
“If anything, [high school students] go out of their way to be nice to them and protect them. There is a growing group of people at the middle school saying students should not bully [others],” Ringstaff said. “What I am hoping is this group can start a dialogue with their age group.”
Continued Ringstaff, “We tell them, ‘you know it is a problem. What are you going to do at a sixth, seventh and eighth grade level to make it stop?’”
Additional topics discussed this year included the school calendar, cell phone policies, technology, bullying, athletic study halls, school vouchers, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Sandy Hook shooting and school safety.
Each student is encouraged to give their opinion. Ringstaff said the middle school students manage to hold their own in discussions with the high school students.
“Sometimes things we discuss here are issues students at our school deal with who feel they do not have a voice,” Mullinax said. “We speak for our grade and colors [CMS grade level groups].”
She said the 2012-13 discussions have resulted in slow, but sure changes.
“It is happening, but it just can’t happen overnight,” Mullinax said.
Byerly added, “I think things will be done. We are still in the school year, so there has not been the end-of-the-year layover.”
The 21 students on the council are a conglomeration of A, B, C, D and F students.
“They all speak very well. You cannot pick out who are the academically struggling students,” Ringstaff said. “They are great kids. When you give them the forum to prove it, they prove it, and that is the most awesome thing about this council.”
Students currently on the council will remain unless they choose otherwise. Three new sixth-grade council members will once again be chosen by their teachers. All current council members will take the place of the next grade up.
Current council members suggested increasing the number of meetings throughout the year. Martin offered a suggestion to next year’s group.
“Bring some new ideas,” Martin said. “I know sometimes it is hard to think outside of your box, but try to be open-minded.”
Ringstaff said next year’s council will see more team building, more self-reflection and about five to six meetings.
“What I like is they are not afraid to give me their opinion or anything,” Ringstaff said.
Hareo said it’s nice to know “they actually listen to students and take our input.”