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Tuesday, Aug 14, 2018
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Survey finds surprising lack of peer respect in Hillsborough schools

Samantha Baker remembers hearing of only one recent fight at Robinson High School: a lunchtime quarrel between two girls in love with the same boy.

For the most part, fights, bullying and a lack of interest in studies aren’t a problem at the Tampa school, at least not in the International Baccalaureate program in which 16-year-old Baker is a rising junior, she said. In a student survey conducted last school year, many of her peers agreed. Robinson scored the highest of all Hillsborough County high schools, with “favorable” ratings of 69 percent out of 100.

One category in the annual districtwide survey surprised officials: Among middle and high school students combined, only 22 percent said they think their classmates treat one another with respect. Among elementary school students, the figure was 45 percent.

At Robinson, 39 percent of students said they feel respected among their peers — the highest of any of the 27 high schools surveyed.

Principal Johnny Bush is not impressed.

“There’s still more work to do,” he said.

For years, the school district’s climate survey has been given to students, parents, teachers and school support staff. The student surveys traditionally are given to all of the more than 200,000 students enrolled in the school district, but last school year it was given to population samples — a few hundred from each school in third through 12th grades, about 30 percent overall.

The reason: Changes in the district’s testing regimens are consuming more of students’ time.

Here are other highlights from the most recent student survey:

♦About 82 percent of elementary school students and 84 percent of middle and high school students combined think they will go to college.

♦About 79 percent of elementary students and 58 percent of middle and high school students combined feel safe coming to school.

♦About 35 percent of elementary students and 49 percent of middle and high school students combined say they use a computer at home every day.

Schools at each grade level with the highest scores overall: Bevis Elementary in Lithia with 90 percent; Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy in Tampa, among middle schools, with 76 percent; and Robinson High, with 69 percent.

Schools with the lowest ratings: Kimbell Elementary in Tampa, with 67 percent; Jennings Middle School in Seffner, with 55 percent; and Lennard and Chamberlain high schools, each with 51 percent.

Overall, fewer students reported being bullied: only about 30 percent in elementary school and 23 percent in middle and high school students combined. About 58 percent of middle and high school students combined feel safe on campus, about the same as last year’s 56 percent.

Student respect, however, dragged lower in all grades.

Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy, a magnet school, opened four years ago with the distinct mission of building students’ character. Character development is “first and foremost” at the school, and others throughout the county have looked to the unique curriculum as a model for their own classrooms since its opening, Principal John Haley said.

The school’s teachers have created their own character education curriculum, taught twice a month in every classroom. Along with adult mentors, the school has student mentors, he said. On early release days, student leaders who are “older, more mature, and a model of respect and good character” teach the curriculum to their peers in “mentor lessons,” Haley said.

“It adds higher accountability, because you don’t have a leg to stand on if you’re the one teaching character lessons and the kids in that classroom know you don’t live it,” Haley said. “We created and designed our school to emphasize that how you act and how you behave is the first priority, and that creates a good learning environment.”

Even at Franklin, though, only 30 percent of those surveyed said students treat one another with respect.

“Still too low,” Haley said. “We ought to have a higher rating than that, and if that’s the highest rating out of all our middle schools, that’s not a very good reflection.”

Last school year, Robinson staff focused on school safety and ensuring that students felt comfortable reporting crimes or other personal issues to staff, Bush said.

The school scored in the low 70s on last year’s survey for questions such as “I know how to report sexually inappropriate behavior” or “There is an adult I can talk to if I have a problem.” This year, 70 percent at the school said they would report sexually inappropriate behavior and 80 percent said they would report it if it happened to them. About 77 percent of students said they know an adult they can turn to with problems.

“Kids know if something happens in our school, if something’s stolen or there’s a fight, I’m quick to get on the intercom and make sure whoever did it will go home with a guilty conscience,” Bush said. “We don’t have crazy discipline problems or suspensions, and I think that’s because our kids feel good that if they report something we’ll make sure something is done about it.”

The school district’s new discipline policy should help, he said.

School board members just approved changes that aim to keep more students in class by making it harder for students to receive out-of-school suspensions. Robinson students no longer will go to homeroom every day — cutting out a 12-minute period that often served as a trap for students to be written up for being tardy, breaking dress code or playing on their cellphones because they are bored, Principal Bush said.

Students will only go to homeroom if there is information that needs to be disseminated, he said.

“I think we’ll see a huge change in students’ attitudes, and that will affect the way they interact with each other and how happy they are at school,” Bush said. “We’re not going to kill a mosquito with an ax.”

Many parents, like Samantha Baker’s father, question how the new policy will affect students.

But the Robinson High student is confident it will work out in the school’s favor. “I think a lot of kids do bad things just so they can get out-of-school suspension and won’t have to go to class, but this will make them stay in class no matter what, and then they’ll learn and get to know other students better,” she said.

“We have tons of posters about anti-bullying and stuff, but this will make kids be more included.”


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