Student survey says ‘Kids First’


Students from four East Rockaway schools echoed the district’s theme, Kids First, Always, as they researched ways to make their schools more inclusive and productive for their fellow peers.

These eight student ambassadors — part of the Superintendent Student Advisory Committee — presented their findings at the March 26 board of education meeting. The students talked about the importance of valuable classes that prepare students for their future, clubs that target students’ interests, ways to make cafeterias a safer, more productive space, and encouraging more group work in schools to prepare students for the workforce, where group collaboration is essential.

“I asked principals to provide me with some of their student leaders and we had two from each elementary school, two from the middle school, and two from the high school,” James DeTommaso, superintendent of East Rockaway School District, said about the committee. “And our mission was to hear their voices and how to improve our schools.”

The committee, which started at the beginning of the 2023-24school year, met  several times. The students with DeTommaso discussed how to survey their peers, as they research ways to improve their schools. The results of the surveys were then presented to the board of education.

Junior Timothy Poland and sophomore Charlotte Webster researched course offerings and extracurricular activities in the East Rockaway Jr./Sr. High School. Jason Brown, grade 8, and Claire Harvey, grade 8, looked into cafeteria protocols and advisory, which is a 20-minute activity period during lunch for the middle school. Abigail Cabral, grade 6, and Georgia Vesce, grade 6, from Centre Avenue Elementary School surveyed students on ways they can improve learning. Kaley Thorp, grade 3, and Henry Tyrell, grade 3, from Rhame Avenue Elementary School talked about ways to increase productivity among students.

“Some clubs that are beneficial to having a job in the future like DECA fell through because not many people are as interested in it anymore,” Webster said to the board. “Our main goal is to find out what students want to pursue in the future so we can implement and establish clubs that really target what they want to pursue.”

Poland and Webster determined that high school students are pleased with the range of classes that they have the opportunity to take. What they want to find out in the future is what other courses students are interested in taking that are not already offered. They also want to determine what types of clubs and opportunities their peers are looking for that will also benefit their post-graduation plans.

“One in 13 students under the age of 18 has allergies,” Harvey said to board members. “That’s roughly two in every classroom. In the cafeteria, the precautions for lunch need to be followed and taken more seriously, especially when this statistic is so high.”

Harvey suggested that it would be greatly beneficial to the students with allergies if someone spoke to the students about importance of paying attention to the severity of certain allergies. She also noted that designated seating areas based on the types of food that students are eating can improve the safety of those with allergies. 

After surveying the students, Brown found that the activities completed in the activity period should not happen during lunch — the only downtime that the students have. He noted that by the time students get to lunch, they are hungry, tired, and in need of relaxing. Due to this, he saw that students can’t enjoy advisory when they are hungry and just want to be with their friends.

“I made a survey for grades K through second and asked them ‘what would make Rhame Avenue better?’” Thorpe said. “The most popular response was better food in the cafeteria. Some options can be fruit and salad.”

Thorpe also discovered that students want “funnier” books in the classroom and the library such as comic books. She noted that books like Captain Underpants will make students enjoy reading and want to read more. She emphasized to board members that reading strengthens your brain, which is why, she noted, it is so important.

Tyrell surveyed the same group of students and found that his peers want to go on more field trips. His survey results showed that students want to go to a fun place that allows them to move and be active. Examples that he included were laser tag, Dave & Busters, gymnastics, and sports arenas.

The Centre Avenue ambassadors said that students wanted to be involved in more group projects. About 42 percent of students in Cabral and Vesce’s survey said that they learn best by working in small groups.

“The student ideas were well-received,” DeTommaso said. “And we will be having a final meeting with them in which we’re going to find out how to budget for their ideas.”

One change that DeTommaso noted is already in progress is adding more healthy food choices to the cafeteria. He explained that he will be meeting with the district’s food vendor to make this happen.

“A big piece of the presentation, the students were talking about group and project based learning,” DeTommaso said. “We already implemented a project-based, three-year plan and the principals are working with the teaching staff to incorporate more group work so that students can learn from each other.”

DeTommaso said that through this committee, he showed the kids that they can be a leader and create positive change for their schools. He reiterated that the students were great ambassadors and worked very hard together.

Down the line, DeTomasso said he would like to add more students to the committee. He also would like the ambassadors to not only present to the board members, but also their peers, as he believes that their message would be even more powerful. He hopes that this would give other students the message that the faculty is listening to their needs and that they have the power to create change.