Student research teams tackle major issues in education today

A male student presents his team's research to the Board of Education.

Findings address school start times, student stress, testing and more

“Do you know the difference between boredom and student disengagement?” asks Niskayuna High School student John Dempsey, attracting attention to his presentation at the recent Education Symposium put on by AP English 11 students.

Dempsey explains that boredom is a state of mind that is even natural from time-to-time, but disengagement is an attitude that can be turned around. Based on the research that went into his academic poster, he suggests a mix of solutions to re-engage some students who have become disconnected. These including using real-world challenges in school work and building a school climate that increases student confidence and connectedness.

At the April 6 symposium, nearly 60 students in AP English 11 classes shared their academic research on some of the most debated issues in education today, including school start times, student stress and anxiety, interdisciplinary education, extracurricular activities and homework and standardized testing.

Small teams of students spent weeks conducting research and then presented their findings and recommendations in a panel discussion format. Others, like Dempsey, presented posters that displayed their research and solutions. They all focused on solutions that could help Niskayuna schools, specifically.

“It’s a lot of research, but it’s really cool because we are promoting change and we are identifying problems that we can solve to help elementary and middle schools students who are coming up into high school,” said Olivia Owens. Her poster focused on the impact that opting out of testing has on students as they advance through school.

The research team of Johanne Friedman, Greg George, and MJ Lee presented their work on student stress and anxiety to the Board of Education at its meeting on April 11. Their presentation, “The Prevalence of Academic Stress in the Niskayuna Central School District and Possible Methods of Addressing It,” identified data about stress levels based on a student survey.

They cited factors that contribute to student stress and outlined approaches to address the issue. They called for a broader ultural shift that would make discussion of mental health and steps to address student well-being more prominent in the district.

Student stress and anxiety is connected to the district’s strategic focus on school environment and culture. Superintendent Cosimo Tanogrra, Jr. and student representatives to the Board invited Friedman, George and Lee to bring their expertise to ongoing conversations in this area.

Two groups focused their attention on issues related to schools start times, finding that a later start time would allow students to get more sleep, which is essential to adolescent brain development. Another looked at interdisciplinary education, suggesting that something akin to a January study term, or J-Term”, could benefit Niskayuna High school students.

The symposium also helped students sharpen their presentation skills.

“I want to do it again,” said Paul Tan, whose group of six examined the impact of extracurricular activities on dropout rates. “I know where I can cut down in a few areas to leave more time for Q&A so that I will be able to more effectively communicate what I want to.”