SHA teens hear about city schools from the source
Springfield School Committee member Denise Hurst got a grilling recently from among her most important constituents – a group of students.
And Hurst, in the home stretch of her second, four-year term, landed nicely on her feet with each question from members of the Springfield Housing Authority’s Robinson Gardens Youth Group.
She handled questions ranging from school choice – namely, how to get into your high school of preference – to effective teaching, to how to be an effective change agent in your own community, and many more. Like a seasoned politician, she listened attentively, asked follow-up questions, and framed her answers thoughtfully, and thoroughly.
Afterwards, she underscored the importance of her session with the teens she met at the family public housing development in the Pine Point section of the city.
“When you hear it right from the kids, right from the students whose educations are impacted by the choices you are making, well, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Hurst, a lifelong city resident and the mother of one young son.
“When they’re older, hopefully they’ll want to have a public voice and help make changes where they live and work,” she added.
Hurst was one of a series of professional speakers who visit the Youth Group each week, courtesy of SHA Youth Engagement Officer Jimmie Mitchell, who wants teens to have local role models they can see succeeding, in real time. Mitchell said Hurst was perfect for that, and more.
“Denise Hurst is just what we’ve been looking for to get the kids to see how the school system really works,” said Mitchell, himself a retired school counselor from the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, now the most popular choice.
“These kids don’t often get to talk to the people in power. What we’re doing here at Robinson Gardens is exposing them to people in the community who are leading the way, so they can see that for themselves,” he said.
Indeed, the teens were impressed with Hurst’s ability to tackle a variety of topics, most especially the school choice issues that are currently weighing on many Youth Group members. Eighth graders in the public school system make their choices for high school, but don’t always get the top pick.
Hurst acknowledged that the choice system doesn’t work perfectly for everyone, while at the same time asking the teens to file their choices by the deadline to improve their chances of getting in to the school they want to attend.
She also urged Youth Group members to be role models for the younger ones in the group.
“Reach back and give good guidance to your friends getting ready to make their choices. They’ll look to you for guidance, and it’s good to do that,” Hurst said.
Ninth-grader Christopher Ortiz, who is president of the Youth Group, said he ended up at Central High School, his second choice after Putnam. Hearing straight from a School Committee member about the process was helpful, he said.
“I feel like she answered all of our questions about how school works, what she does, and the things she can help with,” said Ortiz, who is 15.
Another Central ninth grader, Keishla Caldero, said she found Hurst’s comments most informative.
“She was really interesting,” said Caldero. “I liked hearing about how the schools pick the students.”
Nisa Harris is a seventh-grader at Springfield Conservatory for the Arts, an arts-focused magnet school serving 337 students in grades 6 through 12. She is hoping to transfer to Central when she hits ninth grade, so she can play volleyball on the team there.
“This was actually really helpful,” Harris said of Hurst’s visit. “She gave us some really good information. She understands what we’re going through, but she can tell us how things are for the teachers and the people running the schools.”
Before she left, Hurst passed out to each teen lists including all School Committee meetings for the next year, including those with public speak-out sessions and the names of all School Committee members, the wards they represent, and their subcommittee assignments. She advised Youth Group members to get active by reaching out.
“I can pass on your concerns, and I will do that,” she promised. “But it’s a lot better if you write that letter, or make that phone call.”
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