The senior, a gifted musician, talented artist, and leader of our National Honor Society, slowly raised his hand. He looked to the moderator and waited. She was listening to another girl and after a moment or two made eye contact with the patient senior. The moderator smiled. “You can just talk,” she said, welcoming, kind, the perfect leader of a student gathering. He put his hand down, smiled back, and launched into a big idea about how high school students could help support middle schoolers on our 6th-12th grade campus.
It was lunchtime on a Friday and the first meeting of our ACMA Student Forum.
The idea was simple: two amazing students moderated a discussion, projecting a shared document on the wall and asking students what topics they wanted to talk about. While one typed, everyone gathered was invited to pitch in ideas about what was working at our school, what wasn’t working, and what they thought might help make ACMA better.
Students, any students, not just students elected to student government or as Ohana reps, could say whatever they thought. All voices were equal, whether it was a plucky 6th grader or a veteran like that twelfth grade fellow who raised his hand.
The couple of dozen students listened to each other, added their ideas to the mix, and asked questions. I was there to listen and answer any questions that the principal might, but the forum wasn’t mine, it belonged to the students.
Topics ranged beautifully from a question about how much time the seniors would have to present their Capstone projects in March (they’d like as much time as they could have to share their art) to how often we might make announcements (the hope was once a week over the PA, and maybe finding some other ways to spread the word about important events).
Students talked about how to support clubs (a club fair at lunch was one idea) and what we might do to invite more art into our lunches (music, visual art displays, and excerpts from productions all rose from the diverse voices in the room). Lots of students nodded as they enjoyed pizza together.
While one moderator typed furiously to capture the ideas (her notes will be shared with the staff next week), the other moderator invited comments from the group, prompting, praising, and promoting a lively discussion.
Then, in what struck me as a delightful surprise, the discussion turned to academics.
“We’re seen as an art school,” a senior said, “and we should be, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t do math and science and the academic subjects too.”
“We’re proud of being artists,” another student added, “and being different, but sometimes I think the younger kids don’t understand how seriously we take our studies.”
“Especially the sixth graders.”
“They see us being goofy in the hallways,” said another, “but not when we’re crying over an essay at two in the morning.”
“How can we help that?” a junior asked.
“We could talk to them in their Ohanas,” someone suggested. “Like right after midterms, when they’re getting their grades.”
“And we could help them,” another said. She looked around at the group. “Could we offer to tutor younger kids during Access?”
For any non-ACMA readers, “Access” is a 40 minute long period once a week when students can sign up to go to visit any teacher they’d like for extra help, to make up a test, or work on a project. Sometimes teachers get swamped, and the students at our forum noted that many of them had already taken and passed classes the underclassmen and middle schoolers were in now; they’d be willing to form study groups that med during that time.
Some of the students started talking logistics, some brainstormed the classes kids would need the most help in. One let her thinking include the topics of balance and wellness, and how students might help one another. Another how soon they could go to Ohanas to speak to students about taking academics seriously. Everyone was amazing.
…and I’d be fibbing if I said that I expected today’s forum to jump from art and communication to academics, but then it did.
These awesome students, given the opportunity to talk about anything they wanted, chose to talk about how they could help.
At ACMA that shouldn’t be surprising.
Because as proud as we are to be a school of artists, free thinkers, and open minded humans, we’re also a school filled with students who care, students who want to help, and students who take their studies seriously (even if they don’t always take themselves seriously, a healthy trait).
That one student said: “you need to know algebra even if you’re going to a conservatory” showed a glimpse of that ACMA magic. This is a place where the unexpected should be expected, where kindness finds its way into our best conversations, and where a gathering of artistic souls can go anywhere.
“You can just talk,” our moderator told her peers. Today they did.
We’ll have our next ACMA Student Forum in the student study area in the B100 hall at both lunches on November 20th.