Letter from Student Union | How Student Union, administration are working towards school safety

Nicole Yao, Student Representative

Every Thursday afternoon I walk with anticipation into W311, full of ambitious thoughts and ideas, on my way to the weekly Student Union meeting. I enter the room, greeted by the warm welcomes of my peers, as the worn blue basket of candy is passed around through the classroom. Preparing to get our meeting started, I announce to the Student Union this week’s fun warm up ice-breaker question of the week: who would you choose from history to be your imaginary friend, and why?

Our Student Union is filled with students just like me who are passionate about making change in our school, uplifting Student Voices, and most importantly improving the student experience here at ETHS. As an all volunteer student government with no elected positions, (aside from the position of the Student Representative to the ETHS School Board/ President of the Student Union), W311 welcomes each student and their voices with open arms. Centered around student voice means not only transparency within the student body itself, but also within students, staff, and administration. Often, in these meetings, members share their personal experiences in whole group discussions, influencing other members and peers to offer solutions to their concerns and problems. In a recent meeting with the main theme being safety, individual experiences and safety personnel related, my peers began to share their stories. One stood out in particular. A student trombonist was in a practice room, with the band director’s permission of course, on a Zoom call for their private trombone lesson, when a safety member began to knock profusely on the door and yell at them for being in the room without supervision. Over the course of the lesson, the safety officer continuously disrupted the student’s lesson ending with an intense scolding and the student needing to call the band director for assistance. Stories like these are shared everyday with the Student Union; thereafter, the specific concerns that students have, are brought to administration, fostering mutual trust and transparency between the student body and administrators. 

The Student Voice Forum, previously known as the Witherbell Forum, is an annual event where students from all grades can talk to each other about troubles that they experience at school, but also directly to administration. With the help of many Student Union members and their hard work, we were able to develop table topic prompts for discussion about hot topics in the school building, like lunch, tardies, and student safety. Something that Dr. Campbell specifically acknowledged as a topic that he wanted to hear student feedback on was metal detectors for entry into the school’s building. In previous announcements and meetings he has reiterated that metal detectors would not be an ideal solution and is only a last resort type of plan. The purpose of this forum is to not only gain honest feedback from students, but to help them to feel like their individual voices are not only heard but are also being taken into account when the school makes decisions regarding student’s daily school lives.

In regular meetings with both the school’s principal and superintendent, connecting student voices directly with administrators who are willing to make student suggestions a reality, is a piece of cake. Frequently, throughout the first semester, the Student Union and I have received much feedback and concerns from the student body regarding safety at our school, in some form or another. Relevant incidents with students and the possession of weapons and forms of self defense brought up difficult and uncomfortable conversations assessing the need for more safety officers, security personnel, metal detectors, and most importantly, student well-being in the Evanston community. I work with Dr. Campbell and Dr. Kinzie to weed out potential solutions and thoroughly discuss the administration student’s wants and needs. The goals of ETHS administration and the Student Union is to work hand in hand, not only to acknowledge the discomfort current students feel in this community, but to create a plan that addresses these issues. Asking the difficult questions, like, “Is ETHS as an institution, doing its very best to ensure the safety of every student walking through these halls?”. 

Last November, the previous student representative brought up in their student board report, which happens in the District 202 Board of Education meetings, student concerns about a color guard coach, hired by ETHS who was arrested in Indiana for child seduction. The student representative brought attention to the discomfort of colorguard students who had made complaints about inappropriate touching and remarks by the colorguard coach. When the complaints were dismissed and brushed under the rug, students felt fearful for their own safety. At school we currently no longer have any type of dress code, a direct result of the Student Union’s efforts to make ETHS a safe place for all students. To us, safety is not limited to only the physical rooms of the building, but also making all parts of the ETHS community a safe space for students of all identities and their voices. The Student Union and Student Representative’s role here is to create a platform for these students when it comes to making decisions on the administrative level. Throughout the rest of this school year we will continue to advocate for our student body, making sure safety is a top priority for every individual. 

The clock hits 4:30 and we wrap up our Union meeting, cleaning up candy wrappers and discussing our aspiring plans for the school all the way out the door. Excited for the next meeting coming in 7 days.