By Denise Dick
Eighth grader Jarell Thompson wants to help other students who don’t fit in.
“I want to be a voice for the voiceless,” said the 13-year-old who attends P. Ross Berry Middle School.
He was one of about 30 city middle-school students Friday who gave up a day off to participate in a Students Aspirations workshop by the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations, a Portland, Maine-based educational organizational.
Friday was a professional development day for teachers so students had no classes. A group of teachers also volunteered to work with Quaglia and the students rather than attend the training.
Quaglia is working in the city schools — with the Ohio Department of Education footing the bill — helping administrators, teachers, staff and students work together to identify problems and solutions for the district.
Michael Corso, Quaglia’s chief academic officer, said the institute’s work is in the early stages. Last summer, representatives met with school personnel and within the next two weeks, students in the three middle schools and four elementary schools in which Quaglia is working will take a survey.
That survey, provided at no cost by the Pearson Foundation, will gauge students’ impressions about aspects of their school. Teams of students and teachers will then work to try to find solutions to identified problems.
Quaglia is working with P. Ross Berry, Volney Rogers and Woodrow Wilson middle schools and Williamson, Paul C. Bunn, Taft and William Holmes McGuffey elementary schools, but the plan is to expand the program to all district schools.
Lisa Gonzalez, P. Ross Berry principal, and Megan Bedford, Quaglia’s director of student services, said students were picked to participate in teams based on their interest, their response to questions and referrals from teachers.
Friday’s session stressed the importance of teamwork and getting along with others.
Corso said a strength he’s seen since working here is the willingness of students, teachers and administrators to make a difference in their schools.
“There’s a lot going on in the district,” he said. “These are busy people trying to make room for what they got into education for. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who got into teaching to meet AYP.” AYP, or adequate yearly progress, is improvement measured in different student groups, and it’s one area in which districts are scored on the state report card.
Jarell said Friday’s session showed him how to work with people he’d never met before and how to accept people as they are.
Ke’Myah Culver, 13, also an eighth- grader at Berry, said she’s a member of her school’s aspirations team because “I’m a leader, not a follower. I do my own thing.”
That quality could help her to stop bullying in the school, she noted.
Aareon Hill, 14, and another Berry eighth-grader, wanted to participate “to help people achieve their goals.”
He learned about teamwork, particularly in one game where students had to join hands and then untangle themselves without unlocking their hands.
Team members also have gone to the elementary schools to speak to younger students, an example of leadership.
“We told them about hard work and how you can get through life with it,” Aareon said.