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Kids Get Chance to Speak on Issues in RSD

Posted on July 21, 2011 at 5:43 PM

Updated on July 21 at 6:01 PM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- New policies in the Recovery School District are coming from an unlikely source -- the students.

They are called "rethinkers," and Thursday they spelled out specific solutions and a list of four major areas where they want change, with a list of 12 new recommendations.

It was the opposite of most press conferences. The young people were in charge and the adults sat and listened.

"I had no PE class in 8th grade. Even in 7th grade where we did go to PE class, we had the option to sit down so most of the girls sat down. A lot of times they snuck in candy, chips, and sunflower seeds," said rethinker Jada Cooper from the podium.

Members of Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools, or Rethink for short, laid out what is wrong with the school culture and solutions. First, rethinkers want to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes with healthful food.

"In our classrooms the teachers give us candy, chocolate bars, all kind of unhealthy foods," said rethinker Arieanna McKnight. "That's really not helping us to be healthy and fit."

Second, they want more exercise.

"Schools are not obeying the law. They (sic) not really giving children exercise, not giving children 30 minutes of physical exercise," said Cooper.

They even demonstrated Instant Recess, a 10 minute choreographed aerobic dance program that can be done in class.

Third, they want opportunities to reduce stress through school stress teams and more student bonding.

"I'm not only dealing with mounds of homework, making friends, not getting enough sleep, and having to do chores, but stress as well. It hurts really bad," rethinker Mimi Smith told the crowd.

And fourth, suspensions especially for things like wearing the wrong shoe laces, is counterproductive. They want restorative justice circles where those who caused harm repair the relationships affected by bad behavior.

In fact John White, the superintendent of the Recovery School District, got up in front of all the rethinkers and invited them to come in to meetings to be part of policy making that affects their lives. In fact, they've already done just that.

"The food provider for the Recovery School District, we were put in the contract so they have to meet with us to talk about food. So we're, like, getting excited about it, but we see that like it's more responsibility," said rethinker Vernard Carter.

They are learning that critical thinking and taking responsibility are how communities are built.

The students say they want a 50 percent reduction in student suspensions so that bad behavior is changed, not rewarded with a day off.

The superintendent proposed that money used for suspended students should be shifted to prevent problems.