Students, educators and parents in Casper hashed out their vision for the future of education in Wyoming in a listening session on Wednesday.
Gov. Mark Gordon’s Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE) advisory group hosted the session, which took place at Casper College. Gordon created the RIDE advisory group in May. The group, made up of volunteers, aims to improve K-12 education in Wyoming to a “position of national leadership.” The listening sessions help the advisory group collect feedback about what people experience and want to see in Wyoming education.
The advisory group recently published the results of an online public opinion survey that it conducted earlier this year. About 7,000 people participated, around 4,000 of them parents and guardians, 2,600 of them school district employees. Retired educators, current and former students and employers also responded.
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The topics that came up the most were class content and structure, life skills, STEM and standards and standardized testing. About 59% of participants said they didn’t think the current way Wyoming educates kids prepares them for the future.
About 25 people came to the Casper session; members of the Wyoming Education Association and the Wyoming Arts Alliance, school superintendents, parents, students and retired educators. A few of them had taken part in the survey.
The RIDE advisory group asked them to consider a few questions in groups: What are some of the strengths of the school system that you want to see built on? What are some areas for improvement? What ideas do you have for big, innovative changes in Wyoming’s education system? Everyone got cards with the questions printed on them. They wrote down their thoughts, then shared with the group.
What they thought were some strengths, at least in Natrona County School District: strong art and music departments, educator involvement, lots of extracurricular activities, the availability of different kinds of education (International Baccalaureate classes, Dual Language Immersion, Board of Cooperative Educational Services classes). And on a statewide level: a school funding model meant to create equity across districts, fully funded special education programs.
What they think could be improved: educator voices in the Legislature, making career, technical and STEAM training more consistent, getting away from dependence on the energy industry for school funding, support around mental health, educator training, the availability of life skills and financial literacy classes, diversity training, providing more safe spaces for students.
Some ideas for big, innovative changes: giving students credits for community learning, giving every child the opportunity to go to preschool, offer more student-driven electives to keep kids engaged, emphasize creating global citizens, move career readiness down to the middle school, focusing curriculum more on career paths, teaching social justice and empathy, improving and increasing life skills classes around sexual education, global citizenship and financial literacy.
One parent objected over the idea of emphasizing global citizenship.
“As a parent the idea to teach globalism scares me,” she said. “My child is not a global citizen. She is my child, they are my children. They don’t need to be global citizens, they need to be Americans. They need to understand what America is. They need to understand what we stand for, what we fought for.”
She also had concerns about teaching social justice and empathy in schools.
“Teaching children emotions, on any level isn’t an academic purpose,” she said. “I know that you deal with that. But it’s a parental purpose.”
A retired educator disagreed.
“We are losing our humanity and be able to connect with each other,” she said. “Let’s be real. As an educator, we are asked to parent a lot of the time.”
“Isn’t it limiting to only teach students about America?” another attendee, a high school student, questioned. “Students come from a variety of backgrounds. Why are we limiting what students learn?”