Student concerns about technology and sufficient numbers of teachers were brought before the Brainerd School Board Monday, April 22.
Brainerd High School senior Maddie Schuld came forward during the meeting's public forum and first spoke of the sometimes excessive use of technology in classrooms.
"Google Classroom is a really helpful tool. It really helps students connect with teachers when they're gone or if they want additional information," Schuld said. "But unfortunately I've been privy to some discussions that show that it isn't necessarily as helpful as you might think."
As a free web service, Google Classrooms allows teachers to paperlessly create assignments and for students to share their work with instructors online instead of having to print out documents.
Schuld told board members of an instance where she overheard a student on the phone-likely with his mother-discussing how he could not turn an English assignment in over a long weekend because he would be at his dad's house, where he does not have an internet connection.
"What I got from that is that even if we have the 1:1 student device ratio, ultimately people will still fall through the cracks," Schuld said, noting many times those students are ones who already feel alienated through their participation in the free or reduced lunch program.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education's online report card, about 40% of students in the Brainerd School District qualify for free or reduced lunch, and nearly 30% of high school students qualify for the program.
Despite its usefulness, Schuld opined that Google Classroom is too often used as a replacement for traditional teaching methods, especially, she said, when many studies show writing things down helps students process and synthesize information more than typing.
According to a 2014 article in "Psychological Science," researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer suggest students who take notes by hand during class process information better than those who use laptops. Students who type notes, the study says, tend to transcribe lectures verbatim instead of processing information and reframing it in their own words, which can be detrimental to learning.
"So personally, for many of my teachers," Schuld said, "I've actually written assignments instead of typing them in order to actually learn the information more."
Next, she spoke of what seems like a shortage of teachers for certain elective courses, especially art classes.
Schuld said she knows of dozens of students, herself included, who signed up for art electives but were placed in study halls instead because there was only one teacher to teach one or two sections of those classes. And the pottery room, she added, sits empty for at least one hour during the day.
"I'm sure there's some other workings beneath the surface," Schuld said noting, though, it seems like a teacher shortage from a student's perspective.
She noted her excitement, even as a graduating senior, for the district's new facilities in the coming years but reminded the board it's what's inside that counts.
"Ultimately our schools are only as good as the staff we have within them," Schuld said. "You could have the most expensive, most beautiful building possible, but if there aren't teachers in the rooms, it really doesn't seem like that serves me, as a student, or other students to the best needs possible."
Board members thanked Schuld for her comments, but did not respond, per open forum board policy.