Staff development day features stirring student speakers

February 19, 2019

While most students were enjoying their Presidents’ Day morning with a few extra hours of sleep, a select few opted to share their experiences with educators from every school in the district.

“The theme for today’s professional learning is raising student voice to inform innovation,” said Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed, superintendent.

Known as “Staff Development Day,” the event featured speeches from high school students aiming to give suggestions to educators on how to improve school environments.

“Today is an opportunity for you guys to see what it means to be a Hopkins student, through the lens of several students who will share their stories and their experience here today,” said Debra Chepkemoi, senior, to an auditorium packed with teachers and staff members.

The student speeches were organized by Chepkemoi and seniors Nafi Soumare and Salma Said. Speeches were given by Soumare as well as seniors Catherine Saari, Elena Middlekauff and Jack Jensen, and Jimmy Murphy, junior.

After the speeches and a lengthy standing ovation, a steady stream of educators came up to thank the student speakers and commend them. Though they may have made it look easy, it was far from.

“I’m nervous as hell,” Chepkemoi said a few moments before getting on stage.

Ms. Bethany Ocar, English, compared the experience to standing in front of all of your past teachers and sharing a deeply personal story.

“Imagine standing on a stage, in a spotlight, revealing your secret to all of them at once. That is the emotional equivalent to what these students volunteered to do,” Ms. Ocar said.

A major theme of all the speeches was inclusion, and making the school environment as friendly as possible to all students.

In a powerful speech on advocacy and inclusion Soumare asked, “Why do we refuse to talk about race in a productive way?”

During a speech on sexual violence in school culture, Saari said, “This is my personal experience, but I promise you there are scores of other kids who are in a similar position of having to deal with their trauma on top of getting an education.”

In a personal and moving speech about inclusion of all genders in the school environment, Jensen said, “In regards to the trans community specifically we as a district must move from tolerance, to acceptance, and finally to embracing.”

“Some of our environments are student-centered, some are more teacher-centered,” Dr. Mhiripiri-Reed said. “I know students can be compelling and influential. I want them to shift how things can be entirely student-focused.”

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