PROVIDENCE — Seven Hope High School students were pulled out of class Tuesday by a top school official who said she wanted to explain the changes coming to their school after students had protested the reforms at a public meeting the night before.
Nkoli Onye, the director of high schools in Providence, says she met with the students to correct any misperceptions they had about the impending shift from four 90-minute periods, called a block schedule, to a six-period day, which has been adopted by the other city high schools.
“The purpose of our going down there was to address their concerns, to make sure they had the proper information,” Onye said Friday. “That was the sole reason. We thought we were respecting the students by coming down the next day.”
But four of the seven students who attended the meeting say they felt intimidated by Onye, who was accompanied by another school official. The students, part of larger group called Hope United, say they felt that the School Department was trying to stifle their opposition.
“There was a big undertone that was like, ‘Let me give you the story so you can back off,’ ” said Raul Gonzales, a Hope senior. “We were acting like mature young adults….”
“And she kept calling us kids,” said Southavy Doeur, a junior. “When I got in the room, I felt like something bad was going to happen. It felt manipulative.”
Students weren’t the only ones who were upset by the meetings. Louise Tillinghast, whose son was at one of those meetings with Onye, said she worries that the School Department sent the wrong message: that it isn’t permissible for students to speak out...
According to students, Onye wasn’t entirely truthful in describing the impact of the schedule changes, especially on elective courses. Students and teachers say that the switch to a six-period day will limit the time spent on student “advisories,” and restrict common planning time for teachers — elements that fueled Hope’s transformation during the past five years.
Most importantly, students and teachers say, the new schedule will prevent students from taking four years of arts electives, because the school must follow a set sequence of courses, including four years of math and two years of a foreign language.
For once, the comments are entertaining and occasionally accurate, too. Werebat:
They're used to being able to lie about things to people's faces -- for example, "This reform is about improving the school, it isn't about saving money for the town." Most people in the system know that this is a line, but they aren't going to speak out about it because they care about their jobs and they don't want to rock the boat. The kids have no such inhibitions and they're calling things the way they see them, which in this case happens to be the truth -- or at least more truthful than the official admin story. Admin isn't used to being in the position of being called out on its B.S. and doesn't really know how to handle the kids; in this case it's first reaction was to try to treat the students the way it would treat employees who were calling it out, and it backfired.
That's about right. Unfortunately, my Nkoli Onye stories will have to be wait until either she or all my friends leave the PPSD.