Lining the walls of Joseph Barbosa’s classroom at Central High School on Thursday morning were the five high-school facility concepts that members of the St. Joseph School District presented to the public back in October.
Teachers, students and a member of the district’s board of education, shuffled into the classroom and took their seats as groups of students in Barbosa’s AP Government class presented facts and opinions on each of the five concepts.
“We prepared a presentation that was supposed to be informative but have a little bit of our own thinking and to be a little bit persuasive to the school board and the guests that he invited to come,” Olivia Smith, a senior at Central High School, said.
Smith presented on Concept C: Renovating Central High School while building a new high school and closing down both Benton and Lafayette. It’s a plan that one might assume a Central student would be more in favor of, yet that wasn’t the case with Smith or her group.
After doing research online and studying the pros and cons of each plan through the St. Joseph School District’s facilities website (some groups even conducted polls within Central High School), the facts became clearer.
“Our concept that we had was not the best because you would have to renovate Central, and Central is in a really bad state because of the load-bearing walls, the asbestos flooring and all those types of things,” Smith said. “And we just don’t have room to build new facilities here either, so the two schools would not really be equal. So if we were going to do a two-high-school model, which is what we recommended, we would want it to be two new schools.”
It was an opinion shared by multiple student groups Thursday morning, as they presented whether or not they believed their assigned concept would benefit the St. Joseph School District in the long run.
“The students really surprised me,” Barbosa said. “My students are very engaged, very loyal student leaders, varsity athletes. They truly do bleed blue. But the more research they did on their own, it made them look at the bigger picture. That’s why the overall majority of the students recommend not to renovate Central, but look into a new high school concept or even a two-high-school concept. They really wanted to be about the district rather than about one school.”
Cameron Gilmore, a senior at Central High School, and his group were assigned Concept D: Maintaining and renovating all three high schools.
In the end, the idea of having to spread programs across three high schools and spending the money to renovate what’s already there wasn’t a concept he and his group could adamantly support.
“So what I learned actually is that this concept is very popular with the public opinion. However, what a lot of people aren’t taking consideration on social media in general are the costs,” Gilmore said. “Of course, it’s the lowest upfront cost, but it’s actually the highest in cost in total due to those overall operational costs.”
Barbosa said that the project was designed to encourage collaboration while fostering real-world skills, such as presenting in front of a group. However, he said, local government is desperate for their engagement.
“As part of the AP curriculum, we’re trying to go beyond just preparing for the test. Government is about engagement. I as well as all of our teachers here at Central and the St. Joseph School District want to see our students becoming engaged citizens in our society. They’re the future leaders, the future politicians, the future members of our community that will move us forward, so they desperately need to be informed about the plans that affect us all.”
Both Smith and Gilmore said staying informed and educated on public and government matters is something they hope to make a priority going forward.
“I think people need to get more educated about each one of these plans and make a decision not with their hearts, but with their brains when looking at what would be best for the community,” Gilmore said.
We prepared a presentation that was supposed to be informative but have a little bit of our own thinking and to be a little bit persuasive ... — Olivia Smith,
senior at Central High School