Commissioner's Student Advisory Council Virtual Meeting: May 5, 2020

  • Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman logged into the meeting to speak to the students and to hear feedback from the council on how they’re handling this extended period of non-traditional education.
  • During the virtual meeting, the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council discussed their biggest concerns and where they feel like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding should be distributed.

By Jacob Perkins

Members of the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council – which advises the commissioner of education on issues relevant to high school students – got a bit of surprise during their May 5 virtual meeting.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman – who also serves as secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet – logged into the meeting to speak to the students and hear feedback from the council on how they’re handling this extended period of non-traditional education. She told the group that students have been the most resilient and hopeful group of people in Kentucky.

“I can’t help but think about the way that this year has gone for you, especially those of you who are seniors,” Coleman said to the students. “Our entire world has been turned upside down. The way that we work, the way that we socialize, the way that we shop for groceries has completely changed. …

 “For those of you seniors who missed out on your senior prom and graduation is going to be very different than probably what you had imagined, our hearts go out to you. For those of you who are not seniors on this council, when you get that opportunity one day, don’t take it for granted.”

Coleman told the seniors of the council that even though this time in their lives is something they could have never imagined, it will be a moment they will never forget.

“This will be the class that we talk about for years and years to come because you all have made a sacrifice that has saved lives across Kentucky. For that, we are grateful,” she said.

Joshua Griffith, a senior at Russell High School (Russell Independent), said the most disappointing aspect of his senior year due to the COVID-19 emergency is the loss of a traditional graduation ceremony.

“We understand that it’s something that has to be done, but graduating virtually … is not exactly what you look forward to,” he said.

Griffith added that Russell High School will be giving students the option of coming into the school by scheduled appointments to walk across the stage and receive their diploma. The school will edit together all of the students into a graduation ceremony video for families.

Marshall County High School senior C.J. Johnson said that even though what students throughout the Commonwealth are going through right now isn’t ideal, they can look to the students of Marshall County to see how to persevere through these tough times. On Jan. 23, 2018, a Marshall County High School student opened fire on the campus – killing two classmates and injuring 14 others.

“Everyone knows what happened … in 2018. Everything was kind of messed up, but through it all, I’ve gotten stronger. I’ve gotten through it,” he said. “Everyone at my school has gotten through it. … I just feel like the whole state is going to get stronger through this whole COVID-19 thing.”

Coleman said how the students of Marshall County have responded to the tragedy and challenges they faced has been “nothing short of remarkable.”

“I think about how you all have responded at such a young age,” Coleman said. “What an example that you have set for being resilient and responding to a situation that is so tragic.

“The light of Kentucky was on you all for circumstances that you didn’t want, but certainly you served as a great example in a school that was full of role models for the rest of the state.”

Cares Act Funding
Members of the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council also discussed their biggest concerns and where they feel like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding should be distributed.

The CARES Act, which was signed into law March 27, allocates $30.75 billion in emergency education funding to states. Kentucky will receive about $223 million – an amount equal to about 4% of Kentucky’s annual education budget – for K-12 education from two sources:

  • $193.2 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which is intended to provide local education agencies with emergency relief funds to address the impact of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary schools.
  • $30 million of Kentucky’s $43.8 million share of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which is designed to enable the nation’s governors to decide how best to meet their states’ K-12 and higher education needs.

KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney suggested that funds, specifically from the GEER Fund, be used to improve remote learning under non-traditional instruction and technology overall. She added that GEER funding also could be distributed to continue providing food service to children.

Johnson said an emphasis needs to be put on providing internet access for all students because, according to him, students that have the internet receive more attention from their instructors as opposed to their classmates that are completing their non-traditional instruction in the form of paper packets.

“I think trying to create more opportunities for these kids that don’t have access to the internet so that they have the same attention and instruction that everyone else is getting,” he said.

Griffith agreed and said he knows of students who have had to complete their online NTI materials on their phone in a parking lot because the bandwidth at their home is not strong enough.

DuPont Manual High School (Jefferson County) sophomore Rohin Dutt added that he feels funding needs to be provided to food services so students can continue to have a reliable source of food during this unprecedented time.

“We do find that, especially in this time of the pandemic, the role that school districts are playing in making sure that students have access to food is really, really important,” said Kinney. “As we head into the summer months, I think it will be even more important. Food doesn’t stop when we end the school year. The students need that support year-round. …

“We’re really hoping that we can continue to encourage local school districts, to the extent that they can, to continue to provide (meals) over the summer and as we start back again in the fall.”

Fall Re-entry
KDE Associate Commissioner Amanda Ellis asked the council about their thoughts on potential barriers that districts may face when it comes to the possibility of students re-entering schools in the fall. Currently, KDE is working on guidance for districts and the feedback received from the council will assist in these efforts.

Caleb Spencer, a senior at Wolfe County High School, said he is concerned that students will be far behind where they should be academically when they go back to the classroom. He particularly was concerned with how nontraditional instruction (NTI) has affected elementary students.

“That’s exactly what we’re thinking about too,” said Ellis. “We’re working with teachers on thinking about what curriculum and standards were covered this year in whatever grade (students) were in and then how do we prepare to teach kids where they are and get them up to speed as best as we can knowing that everybody is coming in at a little bit different place.”

Mental Health
After having a mental health check-up with all of the students and department staff in the meeting, KDE’s Program Coordinator for Comprehensive School Counseling Damien Sweeney went over the sources of COVID-19 stress that the students and their family members may be feeling at this time.

These sources were:

  • Anxiety about exposure and illness;
  • Limited connections to others and having a limited support system;
  • Lack of cognitive stimulation;
  • Limited access to normal coping strategies;
  • Stressed family members;
  • Limited resources and/or financial stress;
  • Loss and grief; and
  • Uncertainty.

Sweeney asked the council to list some of the additional reasons they were feeling stress at this time. Some of these answers included feeling burned out and exhausted from NTI, and not having social interaction with their friends.

Johnson said he has been reaching out to friends and encouraging them to do things that they enjoy. He said he does this regularly so it doesn’t seem like a random act. He wants his friends to know that he is there for them and willing to invest time in them.

Student Voice
Due to a large number of Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council members who will graduate this year, there are 14 seats open for the 2020-2021 year. Because of this, KDE is seeking high school applicants for the 2020-2021 Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council.

As of May 5, 85 applications have been submitted for these 14 seats. The application deadline is May 15.

The next Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council meeting is scheduled for May 21, unless guidance and feedback is needed by KDE before then due to the evolving nature of the COVID-19 crisis.

Previous stories from Student Advisory Council:

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