Reported low participation threatens students’ future growth

The results of last year’s Healthy Kids Survey display an otherwise unobservable and unnoticeable side of student sentiment at Burlingame High School. Among the pages and pages of results, some worth bragging about and some not, was the response percentages of “meaningful participation at school.” Appallingly, the percentage of students reporting having meaningful participation was extraordinarily low, never surpassing 25 percent in any of the demographic, grade or gender groups. 

The results mean that at most 25 percent of students think that participation at school is meaningful, meaning that at least 75 percent students think that participation at school is not meaningful.

“I think [that number] is pretty accurate,” Ryan Lowe, a sophomore who took the survey last year, said, reflecting upon his observations as a student in class. 

Meanwhile, strangely enough, academic motivation at Burlingame is much higher, by a factor of two to three, reaching 48 percent in some demographics. One might think motivation and participation are directly correlated, but the numbers themselves directly disprove this assumption. The comparatively higher numbers are perplexing, especially when juxtaposed with the low participation numbers. 

“It is clear that most students have high motivation to do well,” counselor Karen Latham said. “So students are motivated to do well to make their parents and teachers happy, but not always because they are completely engaged [in what they are learning].” 

Sure enough, the percentage of students who expressed “high expectation adults” is higher than all the other percentages, peaking at 62 percent, providing evidence for Latham’s observation. 

The implications of this data are chilling. 

“The data suggest that they are not always sure what they are doing and how it connects with real life. They can’t connect their learning to real life,” Latham said. 

Sophomore and freshmen English teacher Jenna Joseph reflects Latham’s analysis. 

“I think students ultimately care about their outcome as in a grade and their future,” Joseph said. “Deep down, every kid wants to succeed, and want to do well, but it is different from in class engagement. The motivation may not translate to day to day in class participation.” 

Latham and Joseph’s drawn conclusion is a bleak assumption of students’ mindsets. Unfortunately, their belief is confirmed when corroborated by the honest opinions of students. 

“Most people aren’t ever fully engaged, even the good students,” Lowe said. “I think it is a problem. When students are given busy work, they have the mindset of ‘just get it over with’, not really seeing any further.” 

The corroboration confirms that students are willing to do the busy work, work for an A in the gradebook, and satisfy the adults. However, at the same time not understand or simply do not see the meaning of what they are doing. 

Flatly stated, this “learning” mindset is short-sighted, and a threat to the prospect of future growth. Students who see school as just a day-to-day grind are only blinding themselves to the purpose of school, which arguably is more of “to learn how to learn,” and less so learning facts. It is especially chilling that majority of high school students, as the survey reveals, have yet to see or understand the meaning of learning and experience beyond the letter grade. In an exterior post-high school post-college world, lives are simply judged by social participation and productivity, not graded on a letter scale. 

A solution to this seemingly schoolwide issue will only come as the result of collaboration between students and teachers. 

“Both students and teachers need to work together,” sophomore Gracy Burdick said. “Students need to care more, and teachers need to be more engaging.” 

Teachers also have pressure to reform their classes or style as well, to combat the bipartisan issue. 

“There already is a lot of information being taken in by the students, and we as teachers need to identify how it is relevant, and incorporate purpose more, even if takes us outside curriculum,” Joseph said. “I feel like teachers are confined by schedules and standards, sacrificing the space for discussion of importance.” 

Whether students find the real world connections themselves or teachers blatantly explain them, the connections must be understood by growing students. Otherwise, students are stranded in their own bubble-like microcosm, forced to assemble and apply what they have “learned” to an exterior real world they cannot connect to.

Posted on April 21, 2017 .