DECATUR — Area high school students presented concerns that ranged from the lack of advanced-placement classes to high college costs to state Sen. Chapin Rose on Friday.
Rose, R-Mahomet, hosted about 75 students from 27 schools as his "Youth Advisory Council" at the National Sequestration Education Center at Richland Community College. Rose said this was the first time he has hosted this event since he’s been a state senator, although he held similar activities when he was a state representative.
"I am really excited; these are pretty high-caliber kids,” Rose said. “It is interesting to see their reactions, and for me, I am their representative and I am learning what they care about too."
Rose said the students confirmed a belief he already held, that Common Core academic standards have not been good for education. The standards, adopted by 42 states beginning in 2013, are designed to create a benchmark that ensures each student has the same knowledge in English and math at each grade level. Rose believes this system is failing the students because it sets the bar lower than they can achieve.
For their part, several of the students said they would prefer more AP classes that would prepare them for college.
“AP classes look better on college transcripts,” said Kyle Frazier of Warrensburg-Latham High School.“When you are applying for college, having that on your transcript looks better for you.”
Matthew Tobeck and Alexis Hallden of Fisher High School both said they would like more AP classes, but said their school struggles to keep qualified teachers, which can be more expensive. Currently, the students only have a few options for college level courses, including English 101 which is taught by a Parkland Community College professor.
“The school is changing and addressing those needs; it just takes time," Hallden said. "It’s a slow process."
Another hot topic for Rose and the students is the large price tag on a college education. Rose spoke about the benefits of community college, not only to save money but for a quality education, he said.
Education is a key topic for Rose, who along with Bloomington Republican Rep. Dan Brady proposed a wide-ranging higher education reform bill in September. Among other provisions, the measure would guarantee admittance to one of the state's public universities to any Illinois student who maintains a 'b' or better grade point average throughout high school. Students with lower grade point averages will be encouraged to attend a community college.
Also under the plan, the state Board of Higher Education would rank departments at the state's 12 public universities, and the most successful could get more funding.
“One of the goal is trying to realign our education system so middle class people can afford it,” Rose said. “It’s gotten way, way too expensive.”
Both Hallden and Tobeck said it was interesting to see how the schools compared to each other and how they differed.
Hallden also said it was a great opportunity to be heard. “Often people look down to high school students ... we are just becoming voters,” she said. “They think we don’t care as much, but a lot of us really do.”
This was a common refrain of the event, both from Rose and the students. They both said they were glad for a chance to connect and ask questions of each other.
“It is a rare opportunity, especially for someone our age, to talk one-on-one with a senator,” Hallden said.
Laura Harms from LeRoy High School said she plans to study political science in college, so the experience was a great way to learn more about the government and policies. She said she also enjoyed meeting other students and hearing diverse opinions on education.
“It’s fun to talk to kids from other schools,” Harms said. “I am just interested to hear perspectives from other parts of Illinois.”