Weekend Interview with Gibbs High senior class president Keonna Welch
Keonna Welch, 17, is senior class president at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg. A week before school started, the state Department of Education placed Gibbs on its list of 22 poorest performing schools. For Welch, who has served as served as class president each of her four years at Gibbs, the news was an unpleasant surprise. We caught up with Welch this week to ask her her thoughts on the school's situation. Here is an edited version of our conversation:
How did you get the news about Gibbs being in intervene status?
The day before the newspaper article came out, I had a few teachers and we had a meeting with student government and we were trying to make some plans for the school year and one of the teachers, she suggested said we should be cautious of what days we were planning and how we were planning because she was expecting some changes. And she actually told us that we may want to look in the newspaper the following day. And she was like Gibbs is going to go through some big changes this year so before you try to solidify anything with student government and with all these different clubs and committees, you guys just need to slow your roll and wait for the article to come tomorrow. And sure enough the article came the next day. And that’s how I heard about it.
Last year, your school went into the school year with an F dangling over its head. This year, you started with the news that the school is in “intervene” status. How does that feel to you as a student?
As a student, it’s somewhat surprising. Because last year we knew the school had a grade of an F. And we saw as a student and a teachers all the faculty, we saw just how much Mr. Gordon was pushing to get a higher grade. We had the 200 point challenge. That was the goal to get 200 more points so that we can get that grade of a B. We had goals and tips for being effective on the FCAT posted all throughout the hallways. We had study sessions, tutors, we had all these extra things, so I thought for sure we would go up beyond a D maybe a C and I thought that we may even have a chance of making a B, of making that 200 points. So, to come back this year, and before school even started, to see that we’re in intervene status I was like Oh my gosh, what? Because I was definitely hoping that we would have gone up in our grades and our FCAT scores this year. So, it was a surprise, knowing all the work that went in to help us as students, to help us with the FCAT. It was surprising.
Do you as a student feel any responsibility in terms of being a part of the solution?
Yes. I believe that any student that attends this high school has a responsibility to be a part of the solution, to be a part of our school getting a higher grade, passing the FCAT. Because we’re the ones taking the test. We are the ones that have to sit in the class, learn the materials so that we can pass the FCAT. It’s up to the kids. Yes, the teachers have a lot on their shoulders because they have to be sure they’re teaching us the right materials. But it’s up to us. We’re the ones on the test day that have to go in, we have to do our best and the scores are a result of what we do. The teachers can take the tests for us. So, we definitely all should feel a huge responsibility to help raise our grade as a school.
Let’s say there were no such thing as school grades or “intervene.” How would you describe Gibbs?
If it wasn’t for the grading system and the FCAT, our school would not be in this situation, I don’t think. Because you walk on our campus and it’s nothing like the media portrays us to be….When you walk on school you barely see any students walking in hallways. I’ve never had a class where the students are being belligerent…You get the grade you’re like, ‘What? Our school has a D?’… For the most part the students are good, the faculty is driven.
Why did you decide to enroll in Gibbs? And did you ever have any reservations about attending?
I enrolled in Gibbs for their BETA program, Business Economic Technology Academy. Mr. (Bill) Dunn, a counselor, came to our middle school and he explained what the BETA program is, all the certifications you can get. I loved that about it. I knew back then that I wanted to get into the field of business so I was just attracted to it. Of course I had other options, but Gibbs was my first choice….I remember, my eight grade year, all those articles came out about disturbances, the students, the fights and I remember everybody going into a frenzy kind of like it is now, but it was over violence instead of grades. Everyone was freaking out and I got here and it was nothing like that at all.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan to attend Florida Agriculture & Mechanical University for their school of business and industry. I would like to major in accounting or bus administration. I’ve applied to four other schools, but that is my top choice.
Do you have any concerns about how Gibbs’ reputation will affect your post-high school opportunities?
To be honest, I haven’t really thought about that yet. I’ve thought more so about how we’re being portrayed now -- how it’s affecting the outlook of people in the community. …I’m so concerned about how people in the community are looking at Gibbs. No one wants to send their kids to Gibbs now. I’m just worried about how the school is going to withstand after all this dies down…Do I think this will affect my ability toward going to college? I’m hoping my transcripts and my grades show that I’m a hardworking student. And I think you will find that with plenty other students at Gibbs High School. So, I’m not too concerned.
There are a lot of people putting their heads together about what needs to happen to improve things at your high school. What advice would you give?
The advice I would give: to follow through. I’m a teacher assistant for Sherry Howard (the school’s family and community liaison who is responsible for recruiting volunteers.) For that period, I help her to organize all the parent volunteer forms…We’re getting a ton back. I see people how are interested in SAC, PTSA, they’re interested in mentors. We literally have stacks of forms from people who want to help. I’m looking at this and I say this is great. We have plenty of people who want to volunteer. But I say, “Follow through.”…My worry is all those people who filled out forms, are they really going to be there? Don’t let it just be talk. That would be my advice: Just stick with us. Be persistent. We really need the community support right now.
Is there anything else you want people to know about Gibbs?
I have a teacher and last year, every day, he would say, “Good morning. We’re not an F school, we just have a grade of an F.”…Of course, we should be worried about the grade of the school. We just need a little bit of time. I want parents of middle schoolers and volunteers and potential donors of money to see that. We’re your typical high school -- and we’re not the only high school that is experiencing this problem now. It’s not just our school, but it’s always seen that way. They kind of give you that look like, “Oh, do you really like it there? Are you ok?” I want people to know that it’s a great school. We have teachers who are dedicated.We have students who are so involved.
Do you think this year is going to be different?
Yes. A lot of things the students are going to have to adjust to. As students and parents, we’re going to have to just buckle in for the ride. We’re helping to better the school. I know that a lot of things are going to be different. Our focus is raising our grade and to pass this FCAT with higher points. I’m not worried, but I’m just a little curious to see what this year is going bring.