Connecting to Today’s Youth
Students and DVUSD are #extraordinary
By Dr. Curtis Finch Deer Valley Unified School District Superintendent
Ever wonder what it would be like to walk back into high school as a teenager again? Today, your first hurdle would be a convincing disguise. The second hurdle would be how you talk. However, what if you naturally looked like a teenager and even the adults were convinced, right away, without any changes? You might have a unique experience to share with others. This is exactly what Shane Feldman did for two years. His purpose was to study teen behavior, but he ended up rediscovering the power of school and community engagement to impact positive behavior, shape decision-making and help students see other’s needs.
As Mr. Feldman interacted with the students, he was not allowed to give any opinions, steer student thought or affect any student decisions—these guidelines were strictly enforced from the only person in the building who knew what was really happening: the high school principal. These three rules, designed by the researchers, school district and lawyers, were put into place to protect the students and Mr. Feldman. Imagine the liability if he accidentally told a student, “You should do this,” and the student hurt themselves or others? For two years, Mr. Feldman followed these three rules while doing everything a student would do, including homework. Because he could not offer advice, he committed himself to do three things really well: 1) be dependable, 2) be present and 3) listen.
These simple ground rules actually led him to some interesting observations. If he could not guide students with his “life-learned wisdom” (i.e., adulthood), he needed another way to connect, so he joined clubs. From this experience, he reinforced what educational researchers have known for years—extra and cocurricular activities such as service clubs, arts programs and sports teams are some of the best tools for shaping positive future adult decision-making.
In a positive group setting, with like-minded individuals, students build additional, nonadult support systems to help them learn to make positive choices. Over time, he noticed he needed to teach students how to build structures to assist in making better decisions, like making a simple pros and cons list or asking several trusted adults/peers.
After the two-year experiment was completed, Mr. Feldman was handed the microphone at the center of the gymnasium floor with all present. Faculty, staff and students were shocked at first, but then gave him a standing ovation as he explained what he had learned about connecting to today’s students—dependable, present and attentive. Mr. Feldman also reinforced the power of positive school and community groups and the importance of learning proper decision-making strategies to solve life’s riddles. DVUSD agrees with this philosophy. One of variables KTAR used last year to rank DVUSD as the second best school district in all of Arizona was “a great environment for students.” DVUSD has hundreds of clubs, fine arts programs and sports teams. We are #extraordinary in these categories—get your student connected today.