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Patriot Perspective: Students deserve a greater voice in their community

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The administration likes to emphasize that JC operates under contract law, not constitutional law. This means that “Catholic schools can restrict the rights to freedom of expression,” according to Principal Madelyn Ball’s November 2011 Letter from the Publisher “Ball readdresses issues of student expression.”

While this is a completely accurate and legitimate summary of the legal situation, is it something that we should be embracing as a philosophy? The free speech and expression of a school’s students should be its pride and joy. Instead of shutting down student opinion or limiting student power, JC should be encouraging open discussion and student creativity in order to foster a sense of community, improve the school, and prepare students for the post-high school world.

The administration should be going out of its way to empower students. After all, our Mission Statement says that JC looks to prepare students “to serve responsibly in shaping a more just and compassionate global society,” and our Statement of Beliefs asserts that “real-life experiences [enable] students to embrace opportunities and excel as responsible participants in a global society.” Students, however, must be given opportunities in order to embrace them.

In order to become “responsible participants in a global society,” students must first learn how to constructively question the existing system, how to advocate for change, and how to work cooperatively towards solutions. Their school should be happily receptive of and responsive to their concerns and suggestions and should foster that constructive criticism.

Being an effective and responsible member of society requires active communication within the full community. As a legal corporation, JC operates under a Board of Trustees. Frustratingly, the Board, which meets monthly, has no student representation of any kind.

As The Patriot article “Level of student power remains unclear” states, while the content of the Board meetings is potentially sensitive, there are still parent and faculty representatives who attend portions of the meetings in order to be a voice for their constituents. Why shouldn’t students enjoy the same benefit?

Students are the soul of the school. No matter how advanced its academics are or how competitive its athletic department is or how inspired its theater department is, the essence of a school is determined by its students. Why may such a huge segment of the school be completely unrepresented in its governance?

The article mentioned above also speaks of a former Student-Faculty Administration (SFA) which would bring students, teachers, and administration together once a semester to address any problems that may have arisen. For some reason, this has gone out of practice, reportedly because students are too “busy.”

It’s true that the average JC student runs a tight schedule, but, statistically speaking, out of the 688 students available for the job, someone could probably find time once a semester to help shape the “more just and compassionate global society” our Mission Statement says we are working toward.

The SFA would be a brilliant opportunity for students and faculty to communicate openly and to take action. An open-forum meeting would likely reveal student concerns and problems that the administration didn’t even know existed. Such meetings would set an example for other students to take on leadership roles and increase feelings of goodwill, trust, and togetherness with the administration.

These meetings ought to include the principal and president, as well as a few faculty representatives, not just the SAC moderator. Also, it should be open to all students who want to come and be advertised heavily in the Daily Bulletins, advisory, and the announcements. Perhaps government classes could give extra credit for their students’ attendance.

Currently, class officers, the general leaders in student representation, are part of the Student Affairs Council (SAC), which is not even a student government. Students do not place a high priority on the SAC, as evidenced by the chronically low number of candidates running for officers. This year’s president, vice president, and secretary-treasurer all ran unopposed, and the vice president and secretary-treasurer are juniors even though those jobs are traditionally reserved for a senior. If SAC were a better part of student affairs, more people would run for office. If SAC power could be expanded to include Board of Trustee representatives or SFA executives, both the SAC and the school as a whole would benefit.

The current limited communication between administration and students is suffocating our school, and if nothing is done, JC will end up divided irreparably. However, if students are actively given a greater voice and representation in the school, they will become more invested in and satisfied with it. The cooperation between students and administration could even become a selling point for potential students.

In her Letter from the Publisher, Ball talked about her “dilemma in being responsible to all of our constituencies; namely, our students, teachers, administration, parents, alums, Board of Trustees, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore.” The Patriot appreciates that there are certain distinctions that must be made between students and the adults in charge, but it is time that the student constituency was accounted for more meaningfully. Students have the right to matter in their own community.

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The School Newspaper of John Carroll School
Patriot Perspective: Students deserve a greater voice in their community