Open Letter to ELPS

The Portrait Editorial Board presents an Open Letter to the School District 

hands of different skin colors around trojan head

Photo by Aishah Abdulkadri

Completed on May 3, 2021. Hands of different skin tones surround ELHS trojan head against blue background and border.

The Portrait Editorial Board presents an Open Letter to the School District.

Portrait is the official representation for our student voice. It is also the voice of our community; our staff, our teachers, our parents, our local businesses. Here are some proposed solutions to things we have discovered students want to improve–to change and grow alongside us.

Want to add your signature in support of these resolutions? Click here. You do not have to be a student to sign (but you can be!)

Anything in bold is the topic being addressed, while the rest is the changes we wish to see.

Equity/Social Justice Teams

In the aftermath of the notorious slavery assignment, it is apparent that we need equity teams. There should be parent and student led equity teams to address new curriculum and analyze existing assignments. We propose a team of district-nominated officials that will run meetings open to the district parents, students and employees and that must be approved by student leaders. For student equity teams, school club leaders should be invited to be on the board, but anyone can run for board positions. 

An equity team only made up of district employees will always be held back from their full potential because they are employees that are paid by the district, which puts their work towards equity directly in line with their paycheck. Additionally, the majority of our staff is Christian, white, middleclass, cis and straight, a demographic that is not reflective of the community at large. The equity team should be representative of the community and provide insight that staff members are unable to. 

Apart from curriculum, equity teams should have a hand in new hires, analyzing transparency reports released by the district, school signage and consistent conversations with administrators to implement change that has been asked for. 

Curriculum

New curriculum should be approved by equity boards, and existing curriculum should be reviewed and re-approved. This would be doing a complete overhaul of our current curriculum and questioning if everything is still relevant and applicable in an appropriate fashion within the next five years.  

  1. English classes should have 60% of readings by non-white authors. It should also breach subjects that include other demographics; members of the LGBTQIA+ community, varied socioeconomic status’, physical abilities and disabilities. This is not preaching for the disappearance of Multicultural Literature, but having more multicultural lit in our normal English classes. 
  2. Health classes should cover/offer options for students who aren’t heterosexual to learn how to have safe sex. This also goes for heterosexual students, as there are very few who will remain abstinent. It should also go in depth as to what constitutes consent. 
  3. History should focus on more than black-white history. Inclusion of Asian, Indigenous/Native, Latinx, Middle Eastern/MENA, and more African and Black history should be included. More guest speakers, specialists, would also be welcome. When addressing negative aspects of a minority demographic, reasons should be given on why that group of people is in that situation in the first place. 
  4. Native American history, especially of Michigan, should reappear after elementary school.
  5. The curriculum in its entirety should be reviewed by equity teams every year, on a rotating basis by building or subject.

Club Leaders and Advisors

Like coaches, there is a demand for advisors to also get paid. In addition to rewarding them for the hard work they already do, this would act as an incentive for them to do more. Another solution would be giving clubs a stipend so they are able to buy things as they’re necessary instead of constantly holding fundraisers.

Club leaders are elected by students and are genuine representatives. Social justice clubs, some of the most active at ELHS, also help target existing problems like AP class discrepancies, as well as far larger problems like systematic racism in the district. Administrators should listen to these students and try to implement as many solutions as possible. 

Supporting our Staff

There have been more signs of teachers burning out- and the rate’s have accelerated exponentially. ELPS wants our teachers to stay, to be happy, and they are a crucial part of a students daily environment we must protect. 

  1. Mental Health surveys (and follow up)
  2. District paid therapy 
  3. More sick days 
  4. Monthly luncheons
  5. Celebrate teacher appreciation week, driven by administration or student council.
  6. Make sure they don’t feel isolated- especially staff of color. We can’t afford to lose the few we have.
  7. Be aware that everyone has limits, even the younger teachers who seem to have endless energy.
  8. A COVID-19 bonus 
  9. Lower student vs teacher ratios

Religion

  1. As mentioned previously, religion should be taught in social studies classrooms by professionals with a better grasp on the subject. They should also be addressed respectfully and nonjudgmentally, and Christianity should not dominate the conversation.
  2. Include: Islam, Judaism, Indigenous practices, Taoism and Buddhism. 
  3. Objective guest speakers will be the most accurate and engaging for learning about religion correctly. Local experts are available upon request. 
  4. Ramadan is a sacred holiday and should be celebrated and respected as such. Testing, while not completely negated, should be considering this. 

Our Planet 

Students should be taught the importance of preserving the environment, and these ideals should be mentioned at large school meetings like assemblies. On top of teaching its importance, the district should attempt to be as eco-friendly as possible. That includes:

  1. Being “plastic cautious”
  2. Using renewable resources when possible
  3. Purchasing lightbulbs that are energy efficient
  4. Designating a clear place for bottles to be sent (as these are also worth money, this could serve as school funding)

Scheduling

The return of student-centered scheduling: Surveys sent to students before the Master Schedule is created is an exceptional way to know how many sections of what courses will be offered. 

The Master Schedule itself should be assessed and approved by a group of students and teachers who aren’t only department chairs once it has been planned. This allows for holes to be poked and filled before being finalized. 

  1. The return of independent studies 

College Assistance

  1. Admission officers should be attending year round, alongside hands-on people; business owners, skilled trade professionals, anyone who is willing to speak to high schoolers about future possibilities outside of a university-only option.
  2. A frequently asked question sheet in Student Services
  3. Financial aid opportunities/assistance 
  4. Scholarships websites
  5. College application help
  6. Information for underclassmen, juniors, and seniors on how to prepare.

SAT/ACT

  1. Generally more basic information: What is it, when, what does it affect?
  2. Transparency of waiver code for low income families
  3. How to prepare and list of test prep websites (with free options)

School culture

  1. Welcome school of choice scholars
  2. Students on free and reduced lunch should be told the resources (apart from lunch) that are available for them every semester. 
  3. Microaggressions dressed as jokes or in other forms should also be investigated and lead to, at least, a conversation with administration. 
  4. Body positivity and mental health posters should continue to be on high school walls, as well as elementary and middle school walls.
  5. Land acknowledgement during announcements and school sponsored events (ie: sports games).
  6. Emergency fund for families who are unable to cover basic needs (homeless students, especially).
  7. More staff of color in influential positions and as teachers. A hiring process that provides incentives for applicants 
    1. Community partnerships between the district and real estate/utility companies for teachers to find affordable housing 
    2. A way for them to anonymously submit issues (focus on conflict resolution)
    3. A job that doesn’t make them ignore part of their identity 
  8. Conversations on colorism 
  9. Directly addressing the aversion some feel towards BIPOC students
  10. Being thankful to our janitors, bus drivers, lunch people, etc. This can be encouraged through signage or announcements.

Peer to Peer Support

The district should provide this service to assist students in long term success. This can help all students, whether that’s NHS students to get hours, students who want to add to their resume, students who need help, and students who are in credit recovery programs. It will also lower our numbers of students in summer school or E2020. 

MSU students could also help tutor if they need hours. Student service is recommended to facilitate this. This doesn’t have to be limited to academics, and this could serve as a place for students to talk about and prepare for work experience; practicing job interviews, building resumes and cover letters, or even doing college prep.

  • Proposed frequency: after school, three days a week for an hour 

Pledge of Allegiance

While it is a State requirement, some teachers get aggressive about student participation, which is unacceptable. ELPS is proud about our international population, and it makes little sense to force people who are permanent residents or people of other countries to do the pledge. Saying “under God” may also be uncomfortable for students. 

Communication from Administration

There is a difference between summarized and purposely avoiding the subject and being vague. We request honesty and open dialogue. 

  1. Emails should be sent to parents and students. The families can then decide how they handle the information.
  2. Students in ELL programs or with parents who are not fluent in English should have options to read announcements in their native language.
  3. Communication should be concise and reiterated, as well as announced once confirmed.
  4. Interviews from student journalism programs should be respected.
  5. Questions/emails from students/parents should be prioritized.
  6. The link to school board meetings should be easily accessible.

Town Hall hosted by Portrait- week of May 30th 

We recognize that these issues only scratch the surface of how students want to see our district’s culture and behavior changed for the betterment of our district. To include and address the concerns of all students, we as an editorial board will host a town hall where students can speak directly and frankly to our decision makers in an effort to increase transparency between students and administrators.

We request the attendance of the elected School Board, Dori Leyko, Glenn Mitcham, Richard Pugh, Andrew Wells, and a representative from the counseling office. 

Disclaimer: Post publication we were made aware of the fact that there are resources on Student Services but we stand by our request to make them more accessible. We also removed the following line after discovering that they are not ELPS employees:

  1. Annual bonuses from district