Students named to state advisory board

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Four Flathead Valley high school students have been named to a new state advisory board.

Logan Hendrix, Cody Hill, Jennifer Vail and Emma Briggs have been selected as members of the state Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Student Advisory Board. The board is made up of 40 students from 31 schools across the state.

They will represent Montana’s 142,082 elementary and high school students, according to a press release from the superintendent’s office.

“Superintendent Denise Juneau believes very much that student voice is very important in the policy development that impacts their lives,” said Deb Halliday, policy adviser to the superintendent.

Vail, a 17-year-old senior at Whitefish Independent High School, agreed.

“I think it will be good for the [state] to get more input rather than just what they think students want,” she said.

The board is part of Graduation Matters Montana, an Office of Public Instruction initiative to improve high school graduation rates, Halliday said. Montana’s graduation rate — the number of students who graduated in four years — was 80.7 percent in spring 2009.

Halliday said the inspiration for the student board came after Juneau attended a conference on dropouts a couple of years ago outside Livingston. Adults at the conference discussed programmatic reasons for students to stay in school, but students at the conference had a much different perspective.

“Students weren’t talking about more rigorous classes or longer school days or shorter school days. They were talking about relationships,” Halliday said. The newly formed advisory board will look at “what we can do in schools or the community to be more intentional about developing and fostering relationships on behalf of students.”

Hill, a 16-year-old junior at Whitefish Independent High School, knows the value of relationships. He said the ability to go to the alternative school is “the only reason that kept me in school.”

Students there, he said, “are recognized as who they are. It’s more friendly and it’s more like a family there.”

The student advisory board’s first meeting takes place Friday at Carroll College in Helena. Discussing ways to improve the graduation rate is on the agenda, and the Flathead’s delegates already have ideas.

Hendrix, a 17-year-old senior at Glacier High School, describes himself as someone who isn’t motivated by grades. He enjoys learning for learning’s sake.

If other students could find similar motivation, he said, they might be more inclined to stay in school. Maybe “students wouldn’t get so discouraged when their grades start to slip,” he said.

Hendrix said he knows two students who dropped out. Both of them felt hopeless and helpless when their grades started to slip, he said; they thought they could never get caught up and decided instead to quit school.

“If less emphasis was placed on grades and more was placed on individual achievement and ... cultivating a love of learning, from my own experiences, that could help,” Hendrix said.

Briggs, 18, is excited about meeting other students to exchange ideas about how they can effect change.

“I’m really just hoping to sit down with them and figure out why the dropout rate is so high in Montana ... and figure out what we can do to help them help their school,” she said.

Staying in school just makes sense, she added.

“I really think that while it’s free in high school, you should do it. In college, you have to pay for it, you’ve got to pay for your books and it’s a lot more stress,” she said. “Here we have so many great teachers and they want to help us so much. You need to take this opportunity now and prepare yourself for what’s going to happen in the future.

“It starts in high school, it really does.”

Reporter Kristi Albertson may be reached at 758-4438 or at kalbertson@dailyinterlake.com.

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