Town Halls Provide A Forum for Student Voices

Events held every semester to faciliate dialogue between district leadership and students

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Kansas City, March 5, 2020:  MacKenzie Ammons has a voice and wants to be heard.

MacKenzie is a senior and a student-leader at East High School. She was one of about 40 middle and high school students from the northeast and east portions of Kansas City Public Schools who participated in a town hall forum with Superintendent Mark Bedell on Thursday morning, Feb. 27 in the library at Northeast High School.

The forum was important because it was an acknowledgment that students are important, according to MacKenzie.

“I do feel heard,” she said. “This is the best opportunity that I’ve ever had to speak with people who are making these really big decisions on our behalf, things that are really going to affect us. If he didn’t seek our input, his whole agenda would really be pointless.”

Dr. Bedell hosts town hall forums with students once every semester. These events are designed to facilitate an open dialogue between the superintendent and students. They’ve become an integral part of Bedell’s leadership strategy as he continues to guide the school system towards full accreditation.

The town halls are planned and executed by the KCPS Communications and Community Engagement team, under the leadership of Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Kelly Wachel. Students need to be given a forum for expressing themselves if the school system is going to meet their needs, she explained.

“I think student voice is really important,” Ms. Wachel explained. “While Dr. Bedell gets to give his perspective and give his voice for our kids to hear, I think it’s really impactful for us to hear what’s on their minds, what they’re thinking about and what they want for the future of our schools.”

The forum opened with Dr. Bedell sharing a few remarks about the school system’s progress and plans. He then quickly opened the floor for students to ask questions. The students asked about and remarked on a wide variety of topics, including neighborhood violence, college and career preparation, and discipline policies.

Lincoln Middle School seventh-grader Samaiyah Crawford asked Dr. Bedell about his perspective on the policy that compels students to put their cellphones away even when they are in the hallways between classes. Bedell explained that cellphones are a serious distraction at all times during school. While Samaiyah “respectfully disagreed” with his assessment, she appreciated the chance he gave students to share their views.

“Sometimes, students have a different story than what Dr. Bedell is going to hear from the adults in the building,” Crawford said. “So, if he gets information from the students, then he will know a lot more about what’s going on inside our schools.”

One student expressed dismay over the negative stereotypes that some people in the city have of his and other schools within KCPS. Dr. Bedell agreed with the student and talked at length about the lingering impact of institutional, economic and legal racism and discrimination in the city. Later, he suggested that the student read two books on the topic, Joshua Dunn’s Complex Justice and G.S. Griffin’s Racism in Kansas City.

The fact that the student broached such a sensitive topic and came to a passionate defense of his school and classmates was a source of hope for Dr. Bedell.

“Students have a lot of pride in their school system,” he said. “They want to figure out a way to counter the negative perceptions that they even hear from folks in the community. They’re tired of it. It feels good that we were able to talk about the way the system is designed.”

Visit the KCPS Flickr site to view more photos from this event.

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