I never thought I’d find the Holy Grail of student success in, of all places, the Trader Joe’s customer service line.
The posted sign proudly read that employees’ goal was “to provide the highest quality of customer satisfaction delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, fun, individual pride and company spirit."
Then it occurred to me. In the raging debates over how to improve our schools, maybe the answers ought to come not just from teachers, politicians or specialists with 20 acronyms after their names. Maybe we need to ask the customers — our students — for their thoughts.
So that’s what we did in the closing weeks of the 2015 school year. My sixth-graders came up with a pretty thorough list of critiques and pipe dreams. Some of them were pretty convincing; others, not so much. But in all of them, somewhere between the scribbled lines and eraser marks were the aches of students who just want to be heard.
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So without further ado, this is what they had to say:
• “Schools should start later,” wrote Nick Siegel. “This would give students more time to sleep. With extra time, kids will be able to focus more on studies.”
• Indigo Hill suggested that, “The City of Tacoma should begin a foundation for children and to earn and learn about money and how it should be spent. … This will help them with their parents’ funds.”
• Tiana Jackson wrote, “People who are driving should get a warning before they get an actual ticket.” (I liked this one the best).
• Selena Caruso took one for the team and breached the controversial subject of cellphones in schools. “I think we should have our phones in class because we could use them for several things, such as work, websites, calculators, dictionaries, books and much more.”
• Zach Butler agreed, adding, “A lot of the time, there is a long line of people to use the computers to check grades; if we were able to use our phones in class, that wouldn’t be a problem.”
• Hannah Carbajal and Ashlyn Crocker wrote a joint statement to Tacoma, pleading for us to take action on a historical monument. “The Weyerhaeuser Mansion is older than most Tacomans,” they wrote, “and it’s going to be sold to become a house for parties. We should buy the mansion and turn it into a museum for everyone.”
• Asala Abdullh had a message to all of the parents. “They should raise their teenage girls in the same way that they raise their teenage boys. I think parents should give girls the opportunity to do the things they like to do. Girls and boys are equal; they are both human beings.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
• And while some students had thoughts for parents on how to raise children, one student had advice for people considering having them. Emma Tackett wrote, “Child abuse is so sad and so wrong. But people can help by providing a home for them. Help them and stop child abuse!”
• Jenell Little had some advice for her own peers: “A lot of people out there aren’t healthy. If they aren’t healthy, I think they need to get off video games and get some exercise.” Jenell, my mother agrees.
• Rowan Ali touched home when she chose to tap into the issue of class size. “Student grades are dropping due to the lack of help in classrooms,” she warned. “Classrooms are too big. Classes should have less students in them.
You don’t have to go to business school to know that a client has to have a say in what we consider to be in his or her best interest. And while I suppose I can’t humor all of the demands my 126 tweens would make of me, maybe I can at least show them a little of the real world they need: the one where people listen for a change.
Mario Penalver has master's degrees in education from Pacific Lutheran University and in humanities from the University of Chicago. A community theater director and actor by night, by day he teaches English at Truman Middle School in Tacoma. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. On Twitter at @astramario.