The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 10, 2013

Student Senate convenes for 1st time

By Kim West

— Requests to enable classroom access to YouTube and provide a broader menu of fine arts and foreign language courses emerged during a roundtable discussion on Thursday between student representatives and Limestone County school officials in the central office boardroom.

The 90-minute meeting marked the convening of the school system’s first Student Senate, a 23-member advisory council formed to act as a sounding board for central office administrators.

“They gave us great feedback, and they were so mature,” said Rhonda Stringham, executive director of curriculum. “I’m so glad they opened up and were willing to be constructively critical in a way that will benefit students all over Limestone County.”

Some student senators asked for additional language courses currently unavailable through traditional or distance-learning courses offered by the school system. Students also spoke out about the difficulty of fitting in certain distance-learning classes within their class schedules.

Stringham said she plans to contact distance-learning administrators in North Alabama to seek increased curriculum options for students.

Another viewpoint expressed by multiple students is not being able to access YouTube clips to supplement coursework. School officials said the system’s bandwidth could not sustain the demand created by open access to YouTube, which uses a high amount of server space.

Clements senior Alec Van Wagnen asked if lack of bandwidth was the only reason access is restricted.

Superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk answered “yes,” and said that even with recent upgrades to the central office servers, there still isn’t enough room to handle district-wide access to websites such as YouTube.

Cally Glass, an Elkmont junior and the morning-session representative for the Career Technical Center, asked Sisk whether access could be allowed if it was restricted only to certain uses in the classroom. The superintendent said he would explore that possibility.

East Limestone sophomore Simeon Johnson and West Limestone senior Hannah Jackson asked the central office staff to add more fine arts options to students that do not participate in band but would benefit from classes such as choir and drawing.

“There is nothing to stimulate (artistic students),” Johnson said.

Sisk said he is in favor of fine arts but said additional courses are directly connected to the availability of funding.

“It comes down to funding and how many teaching units we have,” Sisk said. “But I am in favor of anything with the arts.”

Previously, the superintendent said the Student Senate gives students “the opportunity to give feedback on what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well. They can tell us classes they like and enrichment opportunities they would like to have.”

Many of the students met the superintendent for the first time Thursday, including Jackson and West Limestone junior Justin Andujar.

“I respected how much attention he paid to us, and there wasn’t any shooting down of ideas,” Andujar said.

“He was very easy to talk to, and it seemed like he was really listening to what we were saying,” added Jackson as her fellow senators boarded a bus.

The Student Senate, which is expected to meet three more times this school year, is the fourth committee to be formed by the central office. Councils for support employees, teachers and school administrators were formed last year, and the school system plans to add a parent-feedback group next year.