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Eyes and ears

Sterling High School senior, district work close to make school life better

STERLING – Not many Sterling High School students walk through the double doors leading from the main floor hallway to the district’s offices.

It’s become sort of a daily routine for Connor Bland.

Bland, a high school senior, also is the district’s student liaison to Superintendent Tad Everett. 

As Student Council president, Bland already is a chief representative of the student body of just over 1,000 kids. Lately, he has bridged the gap between what goes on with administrators’ perspectives and those of the students. 

“A lot of times, because students aren’t in a room with an administrator every day, like they are teachers, it’s harder to understand them because [students] don’t see it every day,” Bland said. “A lot of what they do goes unnoticed and unrecognized, so it’s different in that respect than being with teachers every day.”

For years, Everett had tried to find ways to get input on district matters from a student’s perspective. One day, Bland sent him an email expressing interest in knowing the ins and outs of what goes on through those double doors. 

It was two ideas that came together. 

“One of the concepts within school leadership is student voice,” Everett said. “We value it. We want to know what our students think and feel about our schools.

“As our one and only customer, what are their views? What are things they thing are going on in the school, what are things they’d like to see change?” 

Sterling High School’s day begins at 8 a.m., and Bland has the 50-minute first period open. He’ll spend that time with Everett or Sara Dail, the assistant superintendent, and talk about the current state of the district, what’s being planned, and what students think of new or existing initiatives. 

Bland does not serve as a short cut for students to argue about everyday school policy, meaning he doesn’t use his position to act as a student sounding board for complaints; those issues go though the high school administration. 

Instead, Bland observes what happens with students at school, as well as Challand Middle School and Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington elementary schools, and discusses what he sees with Everett or Dail. On the flip side, the administrators will ask Bland about what goes on with students every day.

Items such as the district calendar, affected with the use of emergency snow days, as well as the recent increase of Illinois’ minimum wage, have been recent discussion items. Another is the district’s social work program, which will be in full bloom next school year after it opted out from Bi-County Special Education Cooperative’s use of the service. 

“There are different students at the younger level who are experiencing stressful home lives, and that reflects at school,” Bland said. “A lot of what [Everett] is trying to fix with that is the implementation of social workers in the school, so that highly-trained professionals can work with the students.”

A sidewalk on high school property along LeFevre Road between Fourth and Fifth Avenue has been is disrepair for many years. Bland learned about how the district deals with such situations, this particular one having drawn many complaints toward the school.

“Until the city decides they want to do something with the road, then the school can come in at the same time. That way it can be fixed altogether,” Bland said. “They’ve tried to come up with different solutions that involve taking out a few trees and moving the sidewalk around, or just simply paving over it, but you run into other issues.”

Bland hopes to use his inside knowledge about the inner workings of a school system in his college studies. He plans to attend Illinois State University in Normal to study education, and is considering what subject he wants to teach and what grade level he wants to work in, although special education has been a recent interest of his.

“We’re excited about being able to get another perspective,” Everett said. “When we make decisions, we think about our students and how its going to impact them. This just gives us another level of that.”

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