Smith-Cotton High School students have been having important and meaningful conversations about current issues this year, thanks to a new concept: Round Tables with Mr. Norton.
Smith-Cotton Principal Wade Norton said he frequently hears from students that they want their voice to be heard. After trying a variety of ways, such as surveys, Norton said he decided to try live discussions.
“It just gives them a chance, if they want to, to share their opinion and their voice,” Norton told the Democrat after Thursday morning’s round table. “I like to challenge them with their comments and concerns, but they know it’s a safe place for them to say what they feel and it’s not going to go against them if they don’t agree with what’s going on. I think it’s good also for an old man to hear the young voices and what they think because they do have valid opinions and they have some good ideas.”
Thursday’s topic was “Are you in control of your education?” Eight students attended the discussion and Norton challenged them to talk about a variety of branches off that topic, such as do they feel Smith-Cotton prepares them for life after college, what classes would they like to see offered, what do they think about activities and athletics and if lunch needs to change. Most of the students offered up an opinion on at least one question, with good discussion taking place among all of them.
The round tables are hosted twice a month starting at 8 a.m. Norton noted that the students who participate do so on their own time.
“They do miss a little bit of seminar, but we start at 8 o’clock and school doesn’t take up until 8:20, so the students who come have decided to use their own time to take up these discussions, which I think is important for them,” he said. “They’ve decided — it’s not that they’re getting out of something to come speak to me, they’re doing it on their own.”
Last semester, Norton chose the topics, but he hosted a student forum last month where students could pick this semester’s topics. Upcoming topics include bullying, race relations, President Donald Trump’s first 100 days, and the legalization of drugs in America.
“They really like politics,” Norton said of their choices. “We talked about the election and that was a hot, debated topic. It was interesting. They are wide topics and it’s not narrowed down so only a certain group of students come.”
Norton said while some students return to the round table events, he tends to see largely a different group every time. He’s had attendance of anywhere from 3 to 20.
Jada Ward, a junior at Smith-Cotton, attended Thursday’s round table, as well as a previous discussion about race relations.
“I like voicing my opinion on the topics we’re going over and I like hearing the other stories of what their opinions are, so that’s what really brought me back,” Ward told the Democrat after the discussion. “… He (Norton) listens to us and he wants to hear our problems so he can see if he can help us and what way he can help us in school problems or whatever’s going on in our life.”
Norton said he plans to continue the round table discussions next year, as it helps keep him “in the loop” and gives him ideas of what students want to see at Smith-Cotton.
“I think everybody should come,” Ward said. “If you’re interested in the topic we go over that day for the round table, I think you should come. I think everyone should be able to voice their opinion about what’s going on, at least to be heard.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.