Roughly 200 high school students from Elgin Area School District U-46 shared ideas Wednesday about improving school culture during the second districtwide Student Summit at Elgin Community College.
Forty students from each of five high schools and 10 students from the alternative DREAM Academy discussed various topics and how the outside world influences school life, extracurricular activities and school culture.
The summit offers students a platform to be heard and have honest communications with peers, said Casey Pearce, a Bartlett High School senior who organized the summit and serves as student adviser for the U-46 school board
"It gives them a voice," she said. "(Administrators) are looking for our opinions. They want to hear us."
Ideas students shared during last year's summit, such as having more assembles, playing music over the public address system in hallways between class periods to elevate the mood, and promoting extracurricular activities and participation in clubs through incentives, are being implemented more widely this year.
"There's a lot of things that we learned," said Pearce, adding, she hopes having the conversation earlier in the school year will allow ideas to be implemented this spring. "This year we are focusing very heavily on relationships." That includes peer-to-peer interactions, as well as relationships among students, teachers, administrators and parents, she added.
"We are generally trying to create a better environment for people and relationships are a huge part of that," she said. "We are trying to make school a more fun place, just more enjoyable ... it would get kids more motivated to be a part of their education. There is a lot of pressure here."
At one table, students discussed how they could earn "hero points" for being on time for classes, good attendance, grades and participation in exchange for perks such as parking passes, prom tickets, and leaving campus at lunchtime. It's an underutilized benefit, said Emily Renteria, a senior at Larkin High School in Elgin.
Renteria said the summit opened her eyes to how other schools deal with issues. She learned how Bartlett High's principal reaches out to students and parents to improve communication. "The perspective others have of (our) schools is shifting to something more positive."
She said Larkin has implemented an initiative borrowed from Streamwood High School after learning about it during last year's summit. Student council members started a buddy system to interact with students with disabilities to promoting inclusiveness.
Following Wednesday's summit, district administrators will review students' notes. Principals will regroup with their students to discuss what can be implemented at their schools.
"They are really talking about how can we improve school culture," U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said. "This is the power of student leadership at its best."