Students United to Reform Education (SURE) to address school board Dec. 5th
William Jarvis
November/December 2000

Gainesville may wonder what to make of the group that has taken shape over the last couple of weeks, with its students who had a little to say on the news and promised a message delivered to the school board. There may be some confusion, as no single name was given, and for whatever reason, the group did not appear at the scheduled school board meeting as planned. And beyond the group's few concerns spoken of at the press conference, no platform exists. The student group born at Gainesville High School and swiftly expanding throughout its student body and soon to other schools has been silent.

Let this serve as a clarification. Our group is known as SURE: Students United to Reform Education. The November 21st Alachua County School Board was indeed to be our debut, as we told the media and public; the day of the meeting, however, as we discussed the possibility of our confusion with the teachers' union and considered speaking at another date, our choice was made for us. At the suggestion of possible legal action on account of our supposed connection with the teachers' union, one of our teachers, Jim Owens, urged us not to go. As a favor to him, we did not appear, but we won't let our movement be silent for long.

At the December 5th meeting we will speak concerning a few issues that we find are key in the troubles with our education system. The Alachua County School Board meets at the Kirby Smith building on East University Ave. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Currently it seems that our particular school, Gainesville High School, fails to provide even fundamental physical rights. These are more basic than intellectual or emotional demands, and must be served first. Our bathrooms must be sanitary and accessible. Locker rooms and showers must be renovated and functional. Storage must be provided that adequately houses our books and school supplies as well as jackets, lunches, and the other myriad equipment hauled to school every day. We need superior facilities--for all students. Every student must be afforded these basic rights, such as the right to be clean and inoffensive to other students, the right to be unencumbered by hefty loads of books for each of our classes every day, the right to be free from distraction that comes from needing desperately to go to the bathroom in the middle of a class. Such conditions as our schools in Alachua County often have are not just inconvenient. They are demeaning and damaging. Another primary freedom students must have is the freedom to have enough time to ingest our lunches. Our school-provided meals are nutritious, but how can it be a boon to our health to devour that nutritionally correct lunch in an unrealistically short amount of time? Thirty minutes for lunch each day with five taken for travel between classes and another fifteen or twenty waiting for our meals leaves ten minutes to eat. These situations at Gainesville High involving basic human functions--cleanliness, digestion, transportation, elimination--are not exceptional. Alachua County schools as a whole widely suffer the same.

Surely this harried pace creates new problems. Overcrowding begets disciplinary problems, and instead of fixing the core issue, new rules are created to cure the symptoms of that crowding. An example at our school is the yellow line policy. A line is painted about the boundaries of the designated lunch area. At one end, we have a chain link fence blocking students from progressing down the halls; teachers or deans occupy other checkpoints, approving hall passes and student explanations. The need to go to the bathroom is not an approved reason for passing. Once lunch is over and classes have begun, the crowding problem is again obvious. Attendance is made incredibly important to those who should be teaching us. These attendance policies are our school's most stringent. Finally, those students who do break the rules are then subjected to a confusing and circuitous system of punishment where, for the same offense, some are penalized heavily and others are not. Ultimately, all students suffer, however. With a few exceptions, the obvious overcrowding problem of our schools cause the disciplinary issues. The students then pay for the failures of the system.

Many students avoid trouble, however, but our schools still fail to provide for these well-behaved individuals. Service that could come in the form of adequate counseling is scanty. Our counselors are overworked. They deal with too many students to provide one-on-one discussion with each student every year of his or her education concerning career and curricular goals. The student must take on additional duties to make sure he or she gets the education, scholarships, attention, and opportunities needed to succeed in the world. And often our school curricula don't even cater to particular interests of large numbers of students. There is one fast track in our school: the academic trail. College is seen as the only end for an intelligent and capable student. This isn't fair. Where are the vocational courses? Where are the technical skills taught? Some alternative schools may offer them, but this means the student gets one more duty. To take every course he or she may want to take, the student will be required to take extra time to travel to these locations. To have a curriculum with true options of variety and diversity, the student must take all the responsibility to see it created.

This is why SURE formed. We are not the tool of any organization. We represent one constituency, and that is the massed high school students and recent graduates of the Alachua County education system. We feel that for some time, our age group has been oddly silent on these things that have been done and are still being done to us. This has been a mistake, and to assist our administrators, school board members, community, and leaders, we have decided to inform the public about the conditions of our high schools. In doing this, we hope they will help us change those conditions, to fix the problems and build better schools for the future.

William Jarvis is a senior at Gainesville High School.

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