CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As school districts across our area continue to make tough decisions about whether-or-not to return to classrooms this fall, we’ve heard from a lot of people, including teachers, parents, politicians and school officials.
But what about how students feel?
WCNC Charlotte’s Ashley Daley spoke to 17-year-old Gabriel Schuhl, a rising senior at Ardrey Kell High School and this year’s elected student advisor to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education.
Chances are if you’re a CMS parent who’s been following along, you know the name Gabriel Schuhl -- or Gabe -- as he’s often referred to in the live feed of comments during each BOE meeting.
Over the last couple of months, he’s amassed a fan club of parents, who’ve praised him for asking tough and thorough questions.
“I try to make them realize as much as possible how tangible the effects of their policies are on the board,” said Schuhl, “I think sometimes we get caught up in the fact that we’re dealing with policies and theories and I try and be the connection back to the real world when we’re talking about students.”
As the student advisor, Schuhl’s position provides the district’s roughly 147,000 students a voice at the table, a position he feels is more important than ever, as the district navigates a global pandemic.
“You know it’s a lot of pressure sometimes, but it’s an experience,” he said, ”It’s taken a lot of responsibility and it’s taken a lot for me to realize that every advocacy, or position, or help in influencing a decision I make, I think it has to be made through the lens of thousands of students that don’t necessarily reflect my experience.”
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On Wednesday night, the board was faced with their most difficult decision yet. After nearly 5 hours of discussion and Q & A with multiple doctors from Novant Health and the county’s director of public health, the board ultimately voted to have students return on a B-Plus Remote learning plan.
Under the plan CMS students will attend school in-person on a rotational basis during the first two weeks of school; beginning in week three, all students will receive remote instruction only.
“A lot of people are asking questions like, well, what are these two weeks going to look like, what’s the point of these two weeks?” said Schuhl, who says the majority of the debate was focused on whether the two-week in-person orientation of sorts was worth it.
He said the board ultimately decided it was, saying, “It’s really tough if you just throw kids into an online setting without some form of introduction, especially for your younger students.”
Schuhl said students, like most others, are also split in how they feel about returning to school.
“There’s a lot of people feeling left out educationally by online learning, and you know, the other side though is that kids I think are generally happy about the fact that they can feel comfortable and more safe knowing that they’re not exposed to 2000, 3000 students per day,” he said.
Shuhl said he supports the district’s decision.
“And by the way, I want to point out that it’s really painful to advocate for messing up my senior year,” he said.
Schuhl, a rising senior at Ardrey Kell, knows there will be a lot he and other students miss out on, but he said the tradeoff is worth it.
“At the end of the day when people’s lives are at stake and people’s families are at stake, then we have to be the ones to say that our experience matters less than someone else’s grandparent,” he said.
Schuhl has repeatedly caught the attention of parents, for pelting the board with tough and thorough questions, many aimed inequities across a district of more than 147,000 students. Eleanor Shell is one of them.
“I know there are many dynamic kids, but man he really mic dropped it that night,” said Shell, “I was just blown away that it was a 17-year-old, 18-year old kid that was able to bring together a four-and-a-half-hour meeting in two minutes in a way that was thoughtful and caring and compassionate."
Schuhl is humbled in the response he’s received from the community.
“I really appreciate the fact that the community is getting together and caring about education and caring about my role and the stuff I do because I do put in a lot to make sure that what I’m doing reflects the interest of everyone else in the community,” he said.
Schuhl will serve as the student advisor until his term ends in November. Until then he said he’ll continue to push for what’s in the best interest of students.
“I think that it’s really important that the board gets criticism, I think it’s really important that we take all of their decisions and the factors going into making their decisions, we take them under scrutiny, hard scrutiny,” said Schuhl.
After high school, Schuhl said he’d like to attend the University of Pennsylvania, among others, possibly majoring in political science or philosophy.