Zion Freeman, a 17-year-old junior at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa, was invited to be part of a pilot program at his high school that allows students to join professional-development sessions with teachers. It’s part of an initiative to make classes more relevant and engaging for students and increase attendance.
What were you expecting?
I was expecting, let’s sit down and talk—just teachers and students. Some lesson plans were going to be pointed out, and then teachers would basically take over, much as they do in classrooms. And then the students’ input wouldn’t affect anything. Students were there to listen—just like class.
What did you find?
I found pretty much the exact opposite. All the teachers came in at the end of the day, happy for some reason. We had a little introductory meeting, where we answered different questions to get to know the teachers a little bit better. When the PD started, it was actually informative. The teachers had lesson plan. They explained them to us, and they had us explain [the plans] back to them ... which I thought, that was really cool because it not only made sure that we were listening … but they got to see how we would have interpreted it.
Do you feel like your teachers are listening to you?
Most definitely. I think my teachers are not only listening, but are working on improving. ...
The biggest change has been in my history class. The first semester was a lot of note-taking—read this off the board, and write it down, and basically spit out the same knowledge. In this next semester, I’ve seen a lot more projects. We’re doing not only small, individual projects, but group projects, which means that we are learning from each other.
You had suggested pairing students who were doing well with others who were not. Did your teacher try that suggestion?
Yes, she did indeed pair [students] like that. I would say about 60 percent [of the students] were like, ‘I really enjoyed it, I did not know this person very well. I actually learned some things, not only about math.’ Then you have some who were like, ‘Why couldn’t I just work with my friends?’
Do you think the school should continue this program?
I think not only should the district continue doing this, I think other schools should most definitely adopt this idea. I feel like there is more student interaction in class. Now you have the kids who never showed up to class on time, showing up because they want to learn, because they know that when they come to this class they will not only get help from the teacher, but there are peers around them who not only know what they are doing, but who are willing to help.
A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as Student Voice: Zion Freeman, 11th Grade