Written by Nicole Smith.  Nicole graduated from Gunn High School in 2020 and plans to attend University of Washington in the fall.

     One of the primary issues we have discussed in the Teen Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) Board is accessibility. As students at a public Palo Alto school, we have peers with varying abilities, interests, and preferences that help them learn best. In order to make high school– which can be challenging to navigate regardless of your abilities– accessible for all students, it is imperative that we as a community listen to feedback from students of all abilities.

     For this article, we sat down (virtually, of course, during shelter-in-place) with Will, who is in a program for students with disabilities at Palo Alto High School, and discussed his experiences as a high schooler. Fortunately, most of his feedback was positive. Obviously, not every student is going to have the same response to the same experiences. This interview, however, was encouraging: it showed that Palo Alto’s efforts to make high school a great learning and social experience, for all students, have been successful for some.

     When asked about his high school experience as a whole, Will said that he liked it. He did, however, mention that he prefers the at-home learning style that has been in effect during Covid-19 and the shelter-in-place to traditional classroom learning. There are likely more students who feel that they work better in the independent setting of remote learning, so perhaps more options for “Blended Learning” should be made available at the high school level in PAUSD (Blended Learning, for those who are unfamiliar, is a course style where some of the class meetings are replaced with remote assignments: often online, sometimes in workbooks or packets that can be done at home, at a library, etc.) One silver lining of this quarantine period is the optimization of online learning systems, which could be implemented in the future to address different learning preferences.

     Will said that he feels included and welcome during lunchtime and other activities, but indicated that he struggled to form deeper relationships with students outside his classroom when he said that he did not know the names of these other students that he interacts with. Will mostly enjoys the spirit weeks and sports rallies that happen at his school. These comments reignited a concern that we had discussed earlier: at our high school, we have noticed that there is limited participation in rallies and spirit competitions from disabled students. In the future, student body councils and school administrations should consider how to encourage participation and increase accessibility in these events for all students. Accessibility shouldn’t just be a feature for basic things like ramps and classrooms– every student should be able to fully engage in the fun, social aspects of high school.   

     Fortunately, our conversation with Will was upbeat and optimistic. While other students may have different feedback, this discussion is evidence not only that the efforts that PAUSD has made to provide all students with a positive learning experience have been at least somewhat effective, but also that many students at the high school level have contributed to an overall, positive, inclusive culture. As a community, we should be proud of this, and also motivated to continue these efforts to make Palo Alto as accessible and enjoyable for all students.

 

Please visit here to read and hear a recap  of Magical Bridge Foundation’s Teen DEI Board Presentation.

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