News stories about educational funding cuts seem to appear all the time, but few of those who are most impacted — the students — take an active role in telling their legislators why their school matters.
Four students from Bucklin High School are changing that. They recently traveled to Topeka to meet with legislators, discuss the unique qualities of rural Kansas schools and urge them to keep even the small schools in mind when considering important issues impacting K-12 education.
"We're a member of Schools for Quality Education (SQE) here in Bucklin," Kelly Arnberger, superintendent said. "They were trying to look at different ways of getting the message out there, and having it come straight from kids was one idea."
Arnberger talked to the high school forensics class at the beginning of the semester and asked if anyone would be interested in speaking to legislators in Topeka later in the year.
Darja Meskin, Cole Hailey, Allyson Rudd and Madison Loschke were all interested in the opportunity, so they put together a presentation during their spring break and traveled to Topeka on March 18 to present it.
"You see kids in Topeka all the time," Arnberger said. "They're pages or completing internships or something. They're respected there, they're listened to and they're learning to become an engaged citizen. So we figured bringing our students would have a positive impact."
The students were very well received. They met with seven legislators from the Senate and the House of Representatives, all of whom serve on education committees, and many of whom don't have a rural background and might not be aware of the unique challenges a rural school faces.
There were four key points the students made during their presentation; first, the pros and cons of education in a rural school; second, how students benefit from being educated in a small school; third, intended and unintended expectations and fourth, funding for small schools.
According to a press release from SQE, Rudd began the presentation by telling lawmakers how small class sizes, individual attention, more opportunities to participate in activities, fewer cliques and less discrimination, the unity of students and great school pride were all important qualities of rural schools. But also, that attending school in rural Kansas wasn't without real challenges such as less technological opportunities, less class options, adequate classroom funding and limited opportunities to learn relevant information due to standardized testing.
Loschke explained how students benefit from being educated in a small school.
"Teachers know a student's personal situation, their work pace, their involvement in extracurricular activities and their support system at home," she said. "In a small school you're not just a number, you're a person."
Meskin talked about how rural schools are forced to provide services that are taken for granted in large populated areas, and sometimes have to give up other important services to provide them.
Page 2 of 2 - Hailey told legislators that per-pupil costs are higher in rural schools, but only because of the smaller, more manageable class sizes.
"I am so proud of these kids," Arnberger said. "They went into these meetings, presented themselves and their ideas in a clear, professional way and made the legislators listen to them."
Once the students gave their presentation, they had a chance to interact more casually with the legislators. Many asked them questions about rural life, and soon it became a conversation, not just a formal presentation.
"The kids did a great job," Arnberger said. "Often times legislators don't have time to listen to presentations like this, but because it was a group of students talking about things that directly affected them, I think it got their attention."
A group of students from the Dighton school district, which is also a member of SQE, is preparing to speak at the capitol as well.