At Youth Town Hall, Dayton Public Schools Students Question Board Members, Mayor Nan Whaley

Nov 15, 2019

At a student-organized “Youth Town Hall” Thursday night, Dayton Public Schools students voiced their concerns about the district.

The event at Thurgood Marshall High School gave students a chance to question a panel of school administrators and elected officials that included Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

Students, parents, and community members filled an assembly hall but only students were allowed to address the panel.

Thurgood Marshall STEM School senior Chaz Amos came up with the idea for the town hall while attending a recent leadership camp at the University of Dayton.

"I asked myself, what if I were able to host a town hall where students could talk to people who call the shots in the district and get the community to see Dayton Public Schools students in action," Amos said, "to show them that we, as youth, do know how to make our voices heard?"

And, one by one, students stepped to the mic to question members of the DPS school board about a range of issues they see, including violence, lack of parental involvement and school understaffing.

Sophie Johnson, a student at Stivers School for the Arts, said she wanted to talk to the board about the environment because her cafeteria doesn’t have recycling and relies on styrofoam trays and plastic utensils.

Daniel Cummings, a member of the Junior ROTC and student at Meadowdale High School, said he’s bothered by the use of racial slurs and the numbers of fights at his school, and said he wishes the board would do, “something to stop all the violence.”

Laniya Cunningham from Thurgood Marshall High School asked Whaley what was being done to address food deserts in her part of Dayton, and she asked the school board to help her get therapy at her school, telling them she has to travel from the West Side to the East Side to see a therapist.

The board and officials had answers to most questions.

For one, Whaley pointed to the soon-to-open Gem City Market as an example of how the city is working to respond to the westside food desert.

DPS student Laniya Cunningham asking Mayor Nan Whaley about poverty and food deserts in Dayton.
Credit Jason Reynolds / WYSO

DPS Board Member Mohamed Al-Hamdani talked about the need for teachers and administrators to build relationships with students early to prevent fights from occurring in the first place.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said the hardest question of the night for her to answer was why many schools don’t have enough full-time certified teachers.

“That’s the toughest one for me to swallow because I can’t solve it,” Lolli said. “There’s a very short supply of mental and behavioral health specialists and the volume of people that need those services has just tripled.”

Lolli says Dayton Public Schools need to find a way to better identify and hire candidates for those positions before other districts do. She said some schools have tried to hire  student teachers upon graduation and increase their pay, but Lolli says the demand for mental and behavioral health specialists currently outweighs the supply.

The night ended with calls for future youth town halls to see how the board and elected officials handle the issues that were raised at the first one.