RECAP: SGA Open Forum

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Members of administration joined to answer student  questions, comments and concerns during the Student Government’s Open Forum. (Photo/Kristen Quesada)

Each year, the Student Government Association (SGA) holds an open forum, typically featuring Upper School Principal Mrs. Elise Blum, Academy Principal Mrs. Lana Buchalter and Dean Dean Nolle, in order to offer students a chance to voice concerns, ask questions and offer suggestions for changes they want to see on campus. SGA held its most recent forum Feb. 13, where Upper School Assistant Principal Mrs. Melissa Becerra made a surprise appearance and helped address questions. For a recap of everything asked and answered, see below.

*EB = Mrs. Elise Blum   *DN = Dean Dean Nolle *LB = Mrs. Lana Buchalter  

*MB = Mrs. Melissa Becerra

Q: Will current freshmen be able to complete the business track by the time they graduate?

DN: You can take Business Essentials and entrepreneurship next year, and then the following you’ll be able to take finance and accounting and marketing. Your senior year, you’ll be able to take the management level two class and business communications.The senior year classes that we’re going to offer the following year don’t exist. Because we roll out a new class every year, you’ll be able to take three years of business classes, but just won’t be able to finish the program.

EB: But no college is going to know that you didn’t finish the program, they’re just going to see that you took business classes. You’ll have lots of opportunities to get involved with business, like joining FBLA and attending business competitions.

Q: Next year, they’re going to kind of switch around the campus with this new building, leaving English classes and social studies on the side of campus near the Fine Arts building and science and math next to the clock tower. Now, though, I’ve noticed that since I parked in the parking garage, there has been a noticeably bigger backup in the 2000 entrance than before, so I’m just wondering if you guys have a plan to deal with that once all the social studies and English classes are moved over there, because I’m assuming that there will be a bigger influx of students of people who want to just go to carline and get dropped off.

DN: Y’all just got to get here earlier. The reality of it is that as we go through the year, people do tend to come later and later and later. It’s just like the first day of school, when they get freaked out by the traffic. Then people start, ‘Okay, if we leave the house at 6:30 instead of 6:40, we won’t have the traffic,’ and then all of a sudden, we fall into the routine. We’ll figure it out.

LB: There’s not more students, though, it’s just more spread out.

EB: We call around the clock tower like the circle of death. I think the backup is worse over there, so I think it might actually be good if it evened out a little bit. Maybe it’ll make things better, but I think what you’re talking about is getting into the garage, which has all the seniors who show up at the last minute, which is what Mr. Nolle is saying.

Q: There are still concerns about the snack bar lines because students are still getting cut, and even though teachers are there, if they don’t realize it and don’t call them out, stuff like that happens. Are there any plans to deal with this?

DN: I see that and I try to call them out, but kids skip and you don’t realize that until after they already have all this food. The other big thing is double ordering, like, ‘Hey do me a solid and get me fries and this and that,’ which also backs up the line.

EB: I mean, we try to put people over there who can handle it, but we can definitely remind the people who are on lunch duty to be over there.

DN: But you also have to understand that now that they take IDs, and they are much busier than in the past. Like, it’s not even close. 

EB: Ever since they started taking the IDs is when everything like that went down. I mean, it’s great that they take IDs for you all so that you can get food from them without cash, but it worked better before, in terms of managing things.

Q: I don’t know where it’s more concentrated, but students have told me there are some bullying groups.

MB: We need to know specifically who is experiencing it, because we can’t do anything if we don’t have names.

EB: When we find out anything like that, we take action right away very seriously. Usually though, we can’t do anything without being told because even if we’re walking around campus, no one will do something like that right in front of us when we walk by.

DN: I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in grades nine to 12, but bullying in my experience here is not run amok. You have more of it in junior high, and I would say it’s incessant picking, versus, bullying, which, to me, is drawing on your shirt, kicking your chair out from under you, saying mean things about or spreading rumors about you over and over and over again. In junior high, we get that and put a stop to it, but we don’t get a lot of reports in upper school.

EB: We do have a form of it on the portal for things they’ve seen or that have happened that they can report anonymously, but it’s still better if they come and talk to us.

Q: There was a student the other day who felt uncomfortable bringing this up, but she felt she was being targeted for her ethnicity. I think we have a need for a cultural sensitivity conversation, whether in the form of an assembly or something like that.

EB: It’s funny, we just had one yesterday [Feb. 12] for tenth grade.

Q: But it’s not just in one grade. They might not be meaning to, I wasn’t there, but the student was hurt by it. When she spoke up, other students also said the same thing.

EB: Well, I’ve always wondered about the effectiveness of assemblies. Do you all feel they help?

Other: As far as awareness goes, it could be quite effective, but as far as actually solving the problem, I don’t think it has a very big impact.

EB: For this lack of awareness, we could work on teaching kids the skills they need to be able to say to somebody, ‘Hey, that was really insensitive and hurt my feelings,’ and reach people that way.

DN: If you want to change the environment, do it one person at a time. Be kind and speak up; it won’t be an immediate kumbaya moment, but it’ll create change individually.

Q: The Coronavirus has affected international students, where personally I’ve heard the word [coronavirus] as I walk by through the hall.

EB: We’ve specifically addressed that with the faculty and made sure they are aware that is not acceptable and to be on the lookout for Asian and Asian American students, because this is not something that’s supposed to be targeting Asian students. We did have a conversation about that and the faculty was horrified when I informed them it was happening. We’ll definitely address it with students next, whether through a letter or some other way.

Q: I was thinking we could have more vegan and vegetarian options at school. I was talking to other vegans and vegetarians and they would really like if there was a vegan/vegetarian bar like the pasta bar, or maybe incorporating something more subtly like meatless Mondays.

EB: Even offering veggie burgers every day could be an alternative.

LB: Organic vegan/vegetarian products tend to spoil quicker, so they can’t hold onto it for as long, which is why they haven’t consistently offered it. But maybe if we advertise it really well then people would buy it.

DN: Yeah, if you’re just offering a limited selection, then maybe we could start with that one day.

Q: Would it be possible to have an out of school company like Chick-Fil-A come in for lunch?

EB: Although we have a lot of people in our high school, in comparison to how many people go to Chick-Fil-A at lunch, there wouldn’t be enough people to make a profit.

MB: Plus, they would have to bring it already made and have a limited amount.

EB: I’m told told that when the new cafeteria opens, there’s gonna be a new food service company.

DN: A.K.A. when your grandkids come.

Q: Since the food vendors usually run out of specific items, do you think we could get a survey of how much students will typically buy on that day so we don’t run out?

EB: Though we bring up all these ideas, we’re not in charge of the food services, so we can’t really make those changes.

Other: Also with vegan or vegetarian items, we could ask students how often they eat non-meat meals.

EB: Definitely a club like SGA or Healthy Heritage could be in charge of that and give us the results.

Q: You guys know how all the forks and napkins are in one package? It’s a waste because not everyone needs to use all of them.

EB: We have told Dr. Laurie that as well, and I think that’s something he’s looking at changing. But right now, it’s just cost prohibitive to go to any other systems.

LB: I think when they tried the single forks and spoons, so many of them were wasted because somebody would come up and push it a few times and now no one else can take it because it’s already sitting there. So it was like more was wasted with those dispensers than they are with the packaged items.

EB: I took a picture when I went to Whole Foods recently and sent it to Dr. Laurie because they have a really cool machine there that you really can only get one fork at a time, so he said maybe for the new cafeteria.

Q: On a separate note, will blue pants ever be an option?

MB: I thought there was an option of dark? 

DN: Dark shorts, not pants.

EB: I can’t see any problem with that, we’ll ask the uniform store.

Q: The grading system is just the letters, and a lot of students want to see the percentages.

EB: Yeah, we lock that. I could just push a button and open it up.

DN: But that’s not going to happen because people would beg for half a percentage.

Q: Does the school try to discourage the point system?

EB: We don’t try to discourage it. We just try to make sure that anybody who uses it, uses it effectively and properly. So, for example, even if you have the point system, there should be an understanding that tests are 40% of the grade, quizzes are 20% of the grade, etcetera. Even with points, the scaling should be true from quarter to quarter and from teacher to teacher teaching the same subjects. Some teachers who use points weren’t doing that. They’re just arbitrarily ranking assignment points. We did a study and looked at it and learned that some teachers were doing it perfectly, but some teachers weren’t, so we had a training day for it.

Q: When is the new building going to be open?

EB: We don’t know. We were told February, then March, then April. All I know is that I’m 99.9% sure we’ll be in there for the first day of school next year.

Q: Regarding Grad Bash, I was told we couldn’t bring any water bottles on the bus?

EB: We don’t want anyone to bring Vodka so we don’t allow students to bring their own but we offer them on the buses.

Q: I’ve heard rumors that next year school will be going to pants only. Is that true?

DN: Those are just rumors. The frustration comes from the tons of girls who walk campus with shorts that are too short. The simplest thing would just be to change to pants, but we don’t want to do that. What I want to do is if someone’s shorts are too short, send them to a place on campus and make them change, and we’ll charge them to discourage them from doing it again.

MB: It’s also South Florida and it’s 2000 degrees.

EB: Also, the girls only wearing pants and the guys allowed to wear shorts? That would not go over well.

Kristen is a Cuban American senior at American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla. She is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Patriot Post, President of Student Government and co-founder of the non-profit Friends for Fosters. Kristen loves keeping up with politics, watching Netflix, reading and sleeping in. She considers herself a nerd due to her massive video game and comic collection.