Pittsfield High School students have give-and-take session with Gov. Deval Patrick


PITTSFIELD -- Advanced courses, sports practices, jobs and -- in some cases -- learning English are some of the hurdles students face in high school.

Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday loaned a sympathetic ear and gave away ideas to help a group of 16 Pittsfield High School students prepare for the future. Joined by state Secretary of Education Matthew Malone and others, the mission was to listen to students' concerns and ideas.

Senior Jacob McNally said his biggest challenge is time management. He described the dilemma to the governor.

"I would love to take more advanced classes, but I have a job, football, my family is moving. By the time I'm able to do homework, if I'm lucky, it's 7 at night. By the time I'm done, it's 1," McNally said.

"So it's routine for you to go to bed at 1 a.m. and wake up at 6?" asked the governor.

"Pretty much," the young man said.

His classmate, Christine Ahoussi, works equally hard but questions whether it's enough to get into and stay in college. Her move from Ghana, West Africa, came with struggles of adjusting to a new school system, a predominantly white culture, and learning English so she could attempt passing exams like MCAS and the SAT. Even if she passes the exams, Ahoussi said she's not eligible for college scholarships because she's still going through the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Senior Dmitri Pixley said he credits Pittsfield High School for giving students many academic, as well as extracurricular opportunities. The school, for example, has the largest selection of Advanced Placement courses offered by a public high school in Berkshire County. The courses, which provide opportunity for students to earn college credit, are also challenging.

Students say they're often searching for tutors.

"Students deserve individual help they may not be getting in a 25-student class," said sophomore Dvorah Gitlitz.

Patrick suggested some online and mobile app resources for help, while Malone suggested students seek help from each other.

"A lot of us do have the ability to help," said senior Aoife Nester.

The school's National Honor Society is trying to set up a peer tutor program, according to Nester.

"But the challenge is having the time [to help tutor]," said Pixley.

"Our schedules are packed," classmate Samantha Bailey said.

Principal Matt Bishop said the students he selected to participate in the roundtable represented the range of successes and struggles confronting their peers.

"I think a lot of adults forget what it's like to be 16 and 17 years old," Malone said.

The pressure and stress students face to succeed is "the new norm," Malone said.

Despite the adversities, students have done "exceptionally well" on state exams and by other rubrics of achievement, Patrick said.

"We're very proud of that, but another element of success is not resting on your laurels," the governor said.

PHOTO GALLERY | Gov. Deval Patrick meets with Pittsfield High School students

Other themes emerged in the nearly 90-minute roundtable meeting: The expense of taking exams like the SATs; the cost of college; going to school in an aging building and having aging athletic facilities; the lack of luster in the new federally defined school lunch menu; giving students more time to delve into subjects and enrichment programs that truly interest them versus ones they're required to take to graduate; and continuing to create a school culture that's supportive of students' needs.

Students said they left the roundtable with many questions on their minds and copious school and life choices to make. But some also left with hope.

"It was really inspirational and good to have them here and listen," said Josh Bonny, a junior.

"It shows they care," classmate Jacob McNally said.

To reach Jenn Smith:
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On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink


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