By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
11:00 AM EST, December 6, 2012
Adelfeus Cole sees a lot of kids who are unmotivated in the classroom. Tyana Palmer wants to know why the cafeteria can't serve students more vegetarian meals. And Kyle Rivers wonders whether Baltimore County will change its traditional school calendar.
The high school students questioned Superintendent Dallas Dance about those issues Wednesday at his first of two planned "student town hall meetings." Throughout the event, hands shot up from the crowd of about 70 students from a dozen schools gathered at Chesapeake High in Essex.
Schools can motivate students by pushing them to think about what they want out of life in the next five years and beyond, and by helping them plan for academic success, Dance said.
"You take ownership when there is a plan in place," he said.
As for meatless meals in the cafeterias, the school system is looking into how much it would cost as it also examines the price tag of new federal guidelines requiring healthier meals.
On changing school schedules, the superintendent said he's "a big proponent of more time for kids," and of exploring alternatives such as longer school days. At the same time, he said, he wouldn't want longer classes to mean more of the usual, and there would be a big cost in keeping schools open longer.
Principals in the eastern part of the county chose students to participate in the event. Another town hall is scheduled for the spring for students from the western part. Dance, who called himself "a technology native," also took questions from students on Twitter.
Wireless Internet and technical gear isn't evenly distributed throughout county schools, said Dance, who added that he wants to create "a technology standard that exists in every classroom."
"There are some schools that are fully loaded with it," he said. "There are some schools that barely have anything."
He also wants students to have more equal access to magnet programs, no matter where they live in the county, he said.
Dance said often at the town hall that he believes in putting a lot of weight on the middle-school years. Mentally, he said, students drop out in middle school, even if they physically drop out when they're teens.
He also wants to focus on teaching foreign languages as early as elementary school. "You're going to be competing with kids from around the United States," he told the students.
When Towson High student Vaughn Parts asked about proposals to change the way the county school board is selected, Dance replied that he doesn't care one way or another. The board is appointed by the governor based on the county executive's recommendation, a system some state lawmakers and parents are pushing to change.
"My position has been clear," Dance said. "I work for the students of Baltimore County Public Schools. ... I really have no position for or against [changing the board]."
After the event, Dance was approached by more students, including a group of girls who asked whether schools can get e-books and serve veggie burgers.
Students said they liked having a voice at the forum.
"A lot of students feel as though they're not heard," said Gabrielle McClung, a senior at Parkville High School.
Palmer, a Patapsco High student who studies dance and theater, said she liked the attention students got through the event.
"I've never experienced speaking to Dr. Dance individually," she said. "You can't improve a school environment without talking to the people you teach."
The students who participated in the event attend Chesapeake, Crossroads Center, Dundalk, Eastern, Kenwood, Loch Raven, Overlea, Parkville, Patapsco, Perry Hall, Rosedale Center, Sparrows Point and Towson high schools.
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