North High senior not afraid to take unpopular stand

October 13, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

Editor's note: What are your best memories from your senior year of high school? Was it prom? Making the basketball team? Did you get your driver's license that year? This school year, The Herald-Mail will talk with seniors from each public high school in Washington County about the memories they are making. Each month through their graduation, the eight students will talk about the moments that are making their senior year special.

It might not be a popular opinion.

But North Hagerstown High School senior Meagan Graff says she is against a new advisement period that takes students away from academics.

She recently helped organize a protest, but she said that fizzled because students feared they would be punished for voicing their opinions.

Meagan, 16, has spoken to the school's principal, Valerie Novak, about the new requirement, and said some changes might be made.


All of the school's students spend 25 minutes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the advisement class, which Novak said is a time for students to form a relationship with an adviser. That connection to a caring adult can help students be more successful, she said.

"The fact is, we sit around and basically waste a half-hour," Meagan said.

The students are divided into groups with one adviser, and she said the students participate in games and get to know their classmates.

Novak said those activities only occurred during four meetings, and more recently students learned about time management.

Meagan said her group discussed its feelings about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Another activity involved cutting out a paper fish and putting her name on it with no explanation for what they were doing, she said.

"I feel like this is really elementary," Meagan said. "And that this group is supposed to be some sort of recess."

The straight-A student says she takes her schoolwork seriously and plans to work for NASA after she obtains a master's degree in aerospace engineering. Meagan also is involved in marching band, wind ensemble, flute choir, youth group and dance.

Meagan said she was selected from a number of senior leaders at her school to talk with Novak about their concerns about advisement.

"There was a lot of negative feedback," Meagan said.

That negative feedback led to a petition being circulated through the school, and a protest that Meagan helped plan. She said that about 200 students committed to participating by boycotting the advisement, but were afraid they would be punished. Only about 10 students showed up, and the protest was called off.

"When you do anything new, you often get some resistance," Novak said. "But after things gel, and you start to see progress, things start humming along."

Meagan said this is the first time she has taken a stand on an issue in which she believed. It was time, though, because this is important ? it's her senior year, and she wants it to be a productive one, she said.

"There were a lot of kids who said the sit-in was a stupid idea," Meagan said. "Well, it may seem dumb to you, but (advisement is) a half-hour that I'd rather spend in study hall."

She said that a possible solution discussed by Novak was reducing the amount of time spent in advisement to once a week.

"I'd be happy with once a week," Meagan said. "I'd be even happier if we didn't have it at all."

She said that the new small learning communities formed at North Hagerstown High School have made no difference. She knew four of the students in her advisement class before the school year began, and those are the students she talks to in that class, Meagan said.

Students are supposed to have a close relationship with their advisement teacher and be able to talk to him or her about their concerns. Meagan said that is not realistic.

"I don't think anyone will talk to a teacher about issues," she said.

Another concern for Meagan is that her advisement class is not in an ideal location.

"We have no classroom," she said. "We sit in a stairwell."

She said the 15 students in her advisement group are crammed in the stairs at her school, and constantly are interrupted by students who need to use those stairs.

Meagan said she is optimistic about a survey that will be distributed to students this month. It will give students a chance to offer their opinions about the new advisement period, just as Meagan had a chance to tell Novak what she thought.

"I'm happy that she asked my opinion," Meagan said of that discussion. "But I don't think it had to get to this point."

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