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MSAN Students Share Guidance with McDougle Middle Students

At the January 13 CHCCS Equity Symposium, high school members of the Multicultural Student Achievement Network (MSAN) led two sessions of “Portrait of a Teacher,” and they drew standing room-only audiences of educators. McDougle Middle School (MMS) Gifted Specialist Catherine Sweat,  Literacy Coach Ashley Lang and Assistant Principal Jaimi West all attended the session with the MSAN students and were, like so many other participants, truly wowed and inspired.

“They presented about their high school experiences, and it was powerful and informative,” said Sweat. “I asked the students a question about what they wished they had known in middle school before going into high school, and the answers were eye-opening.” She was moved to speak to one of her former students among the MSAN presenters, Aylin Velasco Pantaleon, and right away, they began organizing an event for MMS eighth graders. The MSAN advisors, coordinator of Student Leadership and Engagement, Lorie Clark and Blue Ribbon Specialist, Terrence Foushee, offered their immediate support for the proposal.

Velasco Pantaleon said, “It was powerful to see how many teachers had come and tried to learn something to take back to their classrooms. A handful of teachers from different schools have reached out and invited us to speak to their students. The outcome was better than we imagined!”

The result of those initial discussions among Velasco Pantaleon and the team from MMS was an afternoon of “High School 101” that took place at the middle school on February 16.

A group of eight MSAN students shared reflections, perspectives and advice on navigating high school in general, taking honors classes, finding support, and joining affinity groups at the district high schools. 

MMS Eighth Grade Counselor, Sarah Morales, was also instrumental in organizing the event, and she said, “When eighth graders choose high school courses, they hear a lot from adults about their options. Historically, there haven't been many opportunities for feedback from high schoolers themselves. Middle schoolers don't take honors courses, so many eighth graders are anxious and unsure about the differences between standard/college prep classes and honors classes. They don't know what will be required of them in the class and they are anxious about whether they will succeed in an honors course. We know that in our district, students of color are underrepresented in honors courses. As an eighth grade counselor, I had been trying to find a way to allow our eighth graders the chance to hear directly from students of color about their experiences in honors classes.”

MSAN students at MMS

Sweat said, “The information from the MSAN students was very impactful and the eighth grade students were extremely engaged. This was such a positive experience for all students involved, and it was especially important for our underrepresented students to see students who look like them, talking about their high school experience and giving helpful advice.”

The MSAN students had prepared a slide show that included slides like "What I wish I knew before High School”: “Build good connections with your teachers,” “Know that friendships may change” and “Take freshman year seriously.” On the “What to know before the first day” slide were tips like “Hallways will be crowded,” “Know where your classrooms are but don’t be afraid to ask for help” and “Keep and read your syllabus”!

After the initial presentation, a smaller group of students of color attended a panel discussion with a Q&A time. Questions included “Are honors classes a lot harder than standard?” “How stressful are AP classes?” “What can you do if you have a bad grade?” and “If we choose an honors class and I want to move to a standard class, can I do that?” Perhaps one of the more subjective questions for the MSAN students– “Is there less drama in high school?” 

The organizing team at MMS is committed to bring this event back in coming years, so future eighth graders can also benefit from the shared high school wisdom and counsel!