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Taking the lead: District 833 students have role in parent-teacher conferences

Bryceson Randall, a seventh-grader, presents his school work to his father, Brian, in a conference room at Oltman Middle School. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

Student conferences between parents and teachers have long been a mainstay in schools.

But the time of teachers being in charge of student evaluations has changed in recent years with more schools adopting student-led conferences in School District 833.

Oltman Middle School's student-led conferences have a three-year history and Principal Becky Schroeder said they are here to stay. Students meet with their advisory teachers (formerly called homeroom) about the portfolios they've assembled to show their parents. They also get key phrases to talk about their work such as "What I need to work on is ... and "I was successful because ... ."

Supervised by their advisory teacher, students sit across from their parents and show them what they've done during the trimester with examples of their work and tests they took.

Students learn to take responsibility, Schroeder said. They learn leadership and communication skills.

One of the parent concerns the first year was that students would gloss over their shortcomings and poor grade performances, but just the opposite is true, she said.

What the students tell parents should jibe with the grades and teacher comments at the end of portfolios.

Bryceson Randall, a seventh-grader, came to school with his father, Brian, last week. Bryceson told his father that his poor grade in one of his classes was because he wasn't participating in class discussions.

After looking at examples of his work, Brian said he suspected there was more going on than that.

"I know what you expect," Bryceson said.

It's easier to face the fact Bryceson needs to work harder in that class when it's a conversation between a parent and a child than when the news is delivered by a teacher to a parent, with the student listening to a verdict.

Students are also able to point out what they've done well. Bryceson's best grade last trimester was in physical education and he enjoys being a sprinter in track.

Teachers also wrote that Bryceson is a leader, doesn't have behavior problems and has done peer tutoring.

Conference participation is also up, according to David Caponigri, advisory teacher for seventh-grader Hailey Crose.

Before student-led conferences, only half of the students came with their parents. Now, 90 percent of them do, he said.

"I was successful in language arts," Hailey told her mother, Diann, during their conference.

Diann asked Hailey if she's understanding what's being taught in math class.

Hailey said she understands the work and assignments. Caponigri said he expected that she would pass the upcoming Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment math test.

Hailey is doing well in vocal music and science classes and is considering a career in genetics.

"How are you doing is social studies?" Diann asked.

"I wouldn't consider a career in social studies," Hailey said, adding that she could improve her grade in that class.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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