At Thursday’s Board of Education meeting Greenwich High School student government leaders shared what was on the minds of their peers.
Student Body VP Omar Galal spoke emphatically about school spirit.
Omar, many will remember, organized the “Conga4All” event last June, an exhausting and exhilarating effort to beat a Guinness Record for the longest Conga Line, involving 64 laps around the track in Cardinal Stadium.
His effort raised thousands of dollars for River House.
Omar said the class of 2027 had entered Greenwich High School for the first time three weeks earlier and were ready to embark on their academic journey. He noted that same morning seniors were at Tod’s Point watching the “senior sunrise.”
“We looked out over the horizon to a new dawn,” he said. “If you walk around GHS today you will understand why I make reference to new beginnings. Much like our students, GHS is taking on new beginnings: the new student center, the new entryway, the new digital ID’s and the new athletic fields at the back.”
He said while he knew the changes would be hugely beneficial for life at GHS in the long term, in the short term the changes were “tumultuous and reason for unfair criticism.”
“It is for this reason, that particularly at the beginning of the year, student government and student activities are paying special attention to school spirit. Integrating new changes will be most smooth when juxtaposed with school spirit.”
For example, he said, he said he believed the new digital school ID app, Minga, that students download to their cell phones would become increasingly popular as more ways are discovered to expand its function to class events, club activities and a channel for student feedback.
Later in the meeting, some parents sharply criticized Minga during public comment, fearing it would be an invasion of student privacy.
Omar said homecoming week was upcoming and will include a dance, themed dress-up days and the varsity football game against Darien High School.
Omar said he’d hope to be a “catalyst” for positive impact and an advocate for his peers.
Student body president Student Body President Caleb Kaalund talked ‘seeing student government through a new lens.’
“I want to rebuild and restore student government to its pre-pandic glory,” Caleb said. “Covid took a huge toll on the effectiveness of our communication, as well as the overall excitement around student government.”
“I want students to feel exhilarated at school events again, and I want there to be more participation and to hear from the student body overall,” he added.
Caleb brought up the changes to the new furniture in the student center.
“I’ve heard both positive and negative feedback regarding this change,” Caleb said. “At the beginning of the year the new concept was not well received.”
Caleb said he believed as students were adjusting to the change, and their feedback was improving.
As for student government, Caleb said they had organized subcommittees with specific focuses on topics including food service, the environment and advisor base. Their first executive comm meeting with newly elected representatives was scheduled for Sept 28.
As for the Minga app, Caleb was also optimistic. Noting that effective communication was the primary goal of the executive committee, he said Minga, would function as a “one-stop-shop for all things going on at GHS.”
School Spirit and Belonging
GEA president Lil Perrone talked about the recent Greenwich Youth Survey results.
“We all know the obvious – protective factors – the factors where there’s a lower likelihood of negative behavior. It’s not really much different with students and adults, but it impacts students more at this early stage in life: It’s having trusted adults, trusted friends, being involved in sports and community service, clubs and organizations – and those are things that are free that are offered through Greenwich Public Schools.”
“What really popped out at me – and remember this number – it’s pretty steady at 14 to 16% of our students don’t have any of these things. They don’t have a trusted friend or adults. They aren’t involved in sports or the community,” Perrone said. “Fourteen t0 sixteen percent of our students (say on the survey) I feel I’m not in control of my life. I feel I have no purpose. I feel I don’t have the ability to deal with disappointment. I feel teachers don’t care about me. I feel students don’t care about me. I’ve been bullied. I’m anxious quite often. I’m sad and depressed.”
“Now, this is a great school system – a great opportunity – but to me that’s not good enough. I think we need to take a deeper dive on why they’re feeling this way.”
John Fisher, PTA Council president, said while the Greenwich Together survey showed some positive trends, but the 26% rate of “persistent sadness” among students in grades 9-12 was troubling.
“Not surprisingly the findings also highlight, how important it is for schools and PTAs have the resources they need to create the opportunities for student engagement in sports, clubs, community service and other activities,” Mr. Fisher said. “It takes resources, it takes work, it takes effort.”
On the topic of Minga, Jackie Homan, of Greenwich Patriots, said there was a “sneaky implementation” the student ID app, and parents didn’t learn about it until the day of the student deadline to download it.
She said parents were told Minga would be used for hall passes, bus routes, library books, and exclusive announcements, and asked whether the Minga behavior or anti-bullying module would be added.
She likened the use of Minga to Covid protocols that included vaccine mandates, masks and vaccine cards. She warned of a slippery slope.
Andrew Walsh questioned whether Minga had been thoroughly vetted and tested. Referring to it as a “student tracking app,” he suggested students had been pressured to download it or they would miss out on important announcements.
He said the user agreement appeared to be a contract between the student and tech company, which is based in Canada.
He said the app company may sell student personal information by another company, including any company that may acquire it in the future.
“Did you know that service employs an AI bot to review student submissions and that it deletes and censors controversial content without human moderation. This could be a serious violation by GPS of students’ rights to free speech.”
During her superintendent’s update, Dr. Toni Jones said students who don’t own a cell phone were able to download the app to their school-issued Chrome Book. She noted the Chrome Books were upgraded during Covid and are far better and faster.
Dr. Jones said the only module GHS students have on Minga is the digital ID, but they are not required to actually show it when they arrive or depart.
“We are required to have IDs for our students,” Jones said. “They use them for their library books. They use them in the cafeteria.”
Jones said students cannot post on the app or communicate with one another.
“The administration can push information out to students.”
She noted at a well attended PTA meeting earlier in the week, there were very few questions about the app.
“I think it’s because the students are used to having an ID,” she said. “From a safety standpoint, any of you who have had teenagers know, getting them to keep up with that card in their pocket is hard. One thing they do keep up with is their phone. We did let the students know – we issue a digital device and if they’d rather have in on there.”
“The app is not being utilized in the ways some people have conveyed. I want to reassure you of that,” she said, adding, “In the state of Connecticut we have a data privacy agreement the companies must sign. The data privacy act is signed by Minga. It’s pretty rigorous.”
BOE chair Joe Kelly said he would reach out to Mr. Walsh following the meeting to look more specifically at his concerns. He noted that there are already sports apps and other apps and perhaps those should be looked at.
“If we paid for it. It is absolutely vetted and it has to go through the Connecticut Data Privacy Act,” she continued. “Remember, students put apps on their phones that we don’t know exist.”
Karen Kowalski asked if the notifications would also be sent by email.
Dr. Jones said students tend not to check email. “Students, if they have to go find it or look at an email, they’re not as likely to do that.”
Dr. Jones about 2,000 out of 2,700 students at GHS had already downloaded Minga, but if a student absolutely did not want to they could go to student activities and request a regular ID.
Karen Hirsh said she agreed that more information shared with parents would have been helpful. “But now we have the opportunity to do so and we are planning to, which is great.”
Students Respond to the Debut of New Furniture in GHS Student Center, Sept 4, 2023, by Sahar Shakib from the GHS class of 2024