By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — Gov. Deval Patrick heard students’ concerns, successes and challenges, ranging from homework to paying for college, at a question-and-answer session yesterday at Salem High School.
The high school had gathered a cross-section of students for a discussion with Patrick, Mayor Kim Driscoll and Mass. Secretary of Education Matthew Malone yesterday afternoon.
The students were quiet at the start, but questions and a few jokes from Patrick, Driscoll and Malone got the discussion rolling.
The more than 20 students talked about how friends, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs play an important part in rounding out their education and preparing them for life beyond high school.
Hugo Canales, who graduated from SHS this month and is headed to Bunker Hill Community College, told Patrick he feels special education needs more funding, staff and attention from higher-ups.
“(Special education) is not on the radar ... it’s been such a struggle,” Canales said. “There has to be some sort of way to get special education noticed.”
When the discussion turned to college, graduate Kimberly Barzola told Patrick that financial aid was one of the biggest factors in her college choice, Boston University.
Patrick told the group he tries to visit one Massachusetts school per week to get a first-hand account of “what’s working, and what’s not” in public education.
The landscape is ever-changing, and education reform “is a gradual thing,” he said.
After the hourlong discussion, sophomore Julia Donahue said she felt the session was useful, to both the students and state leaders.
“I expected to get questions answered,” she said. “ ... He (Patrick) knew exactly what he was talking about when he (spoke of) mission-driven teachers. I admire someone that knows what they want and doesn’t let it slide because someone said no.”
The group of students was an equal mix of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors who graduated on June 7.
Malone, the former superintendent of schools in Swampscott, asked for feedback on extending the school day. The concept has been discussed in districts across the state, including Salem.
Students said they’d prefer the extra time not be filled with core subjects, but with homework help, electives or other “real world” educational programming.
Malone suggested extra-curricular activities could be built into an extended school day.
“Imagine if we had sports practice in the morning and then went to school?” Malone said.
When Driscoll asked the students if they felt challenged enough at SHS, two students spoke of having less homework than they thought they would.
”It always gives me a little pause when I hear (a student) is not challenged,” Patrick said in an interview after the student discussion. “The point is to make sure everybody’s performing to their best potential.”
“... We need schools to be about the here and now, and about tomorrow,” he said.
Patrick came to Salem yesterday to swear in several judges at the courthouse on Federal Street and had arranged for the student “town hall” discussion at SHS.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.