Students Speak Up About School Renovations

Bill Rice: About 90 or so Cleveland public school students are gathered in small groups in the main room at the Sheetmetal Workers Union Hall on Carnegie, just east of downtown. Mostly Student Council Presidents and Vice Presidents from various high schools, they're representing their fellow students in the facility renovations debate going on district-wide. Some K through 8 students are also here. They've been given a few hours off from their regular school routine so that they, too, can be counted in the public input process. Like the adults attending the evening meetings, these kids have been asked to stretch their imaginations in forming a vision of future. Julian Rogers is Assistant Chief of Staff to Cleveland Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Julian Rogers: They started out talking about windows and bathrooms and things of that nature, but what we're trying to encourage the students to do here is dream a little bit more, and whatever you think of that you'd like to see in your schools, bring it out here and we'll go back and actually see what can be done.

BR: In each group, a student leader prompts the discussion and keeps a list of all the suggestions on a flip chart. One group debates the merits of renovating vs. rebuilding.

After the discussion group wraps up and the kids break for lunch, 8th grader Dario Tompkins says he's glad to get out of school for half a day. And he's got a lot of ideas on what projects he'd like to see at Forest Hill Park Academy, where he is Student Council President.

Dario Tompkins: One thing that really should be replaced is the computers. I am very impatient sometimes, especially when you only have 15 minutes to get on the computer. They should be much faster and should have updated programs on them. The other thing that should be renovated is the school and how they are situated. If the gym is a multi-purpose room I think they should add another gym or add another floor so that it would be a gym and auditorium and then downstairs would be the cafeteria. Because it's very unpleasant to see little kids put food all over the place when I'm supposed to have my gym time.

BR: Phase one of the renovations - making all schools, as district officials repeat often, warm, safe and dry - includes the basics - fixing the roofs, the bathrooms and plumbing, the heating systems. It's expected to take about four years. The bigger ideas, such as new gymnasiums, playgrounds, and state-of-the-art science labs, are further down the road, and district officials do caution that those will happen only as resources permit, if at all. As an eighth grader Tompkins will still be around to see most of the results of phase one, but not much beyond that. And many high schoolers will see far less, since they'll be graduating soon. But Student Council Advisor Lisa Amato says from what she's seen most of these students are thinking beyond how they, personally, will benefit.

Lisa Amato: I think they're looking to the future generations, their brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews down the road and that this is going to directly benefit them. Somebody mentioned before that this is a legacy and I think they're contributing in that manner.

BR: Cenaya McCord, a junior at Martin Luther King School of Law and Municipal Careers, concurs.

Cenaya McCord: I don't feel bad that I won't experience most of the changes in my school building, but I do feel good about making the changes with other students that are on their way.

BR: Some school renovations are already underway, but the facilities overhaul - funded by a massive bond issue and state match - is expected to rev up to full speed next summer. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.

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