SHERRARD — "The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way" was the topic of a recent discussion between students in an advanced-placement class at Sherrard High School and school administrators.
Sherrard High School English teacher Tammy Crippen’s advanced-placement language and composition students invited administrators to a discussion of ideas generated by a book with that title.
During the discourse, they talked about how to make Sherrard a school where students strive for academic excellence. One administrator asked the students if they felt recognized for their academic achievements.
“I think there’s almost too much focus a lot of times. ... They could focus on kids who don’t do as well,” junior Guin Diehl said.
Junior Laila Haley agreed. She said the school should focus on “things that they (students) do well that we don’t ordinarily see as important. I think that would be good. Because if we’re constantly the ones being lifted up and being focused on, then everyone else in the school starts to think they’re not important ... and they just shouldn’t try at all.”
“We’re the group that knows who we are, why we’re here and what we’re here to do," Kacey Plambeck, a junior, said. "We don’t really need that recognition.”
He said too much recognition for those who are the highest achievers may give their peers a “sense of unattainability.”
Matt Hutchins, high school assistant principal, said he had expected to hear the opposite.
“It was neat to hear your perception on that,” he told the group.
Junior Holly Jacobs said students would benefit from learning about challenging academic opportunities outside of school at a younger age.
Haley suggested starting a club that could help students apply for internships.
“They just have to know how to find them (opportunities), which we could help with.”
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Switching topics, Superintendent Alan Boucher told students the district already feels the effects of what he calls an upcoming “gigantic teacher shortage.” He told students he wrote about the dire situation in his January Superintendent Journal, available on the district website. In a blog entry, he called out the community to change the way educators are portrayed.
“Few things are more important than educating the next generation. We need educators. ... Our nation will be in serious trouble in the coming decades if we don’t improve the way we portray the work of educators. We can start by honoring our educators like we honor first responders and members of the military and by encouraging our young people to take on the daunting challenges of being an educator.”
He said a teaching position typically garnered 100-plus applications more than a decade ago, compared to four or five applications today.
“Once you have that cultural change at a certain point, money is going to talk,” said Hutchins.
The group also discussed educational priorities for coaches who are also teachers, ways to encourage forward thinking in students by decorating lockers with the colleges they get accepted into and the role mental health support plays in student success.
Boucher said he was “delighted” to participate in the discussion. “This is an excellent book, and I enjoy talking about the ideas covered by the author," he said.
“Teens have a slightly different perspective, so hearing their thoughts was very instructive. I was amazed by their maturity and insight.”
Sherrard School District currently offers eight advanced-placement courses. AP courses count toward college credit with a passing grade on a final test. The district also offers dual-enrollment and honors courses.
High school students qualify for AP courses by first completing honors courses, through teacher recommendations, or by meeting certain class requirements.
Last year, 14 out of 16 kids passed Crippen’s AP language and composition class.
“The kids love it. It is a lot of work. ... It is a load that these kids are holding, and they have set the bar high.”
“Especially for a school our size, and to have teachers that are (AP) certified, that’s pretty phenomenal," she said.