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 Student-Led Conferences Bring the “Why” Home for Office-Based Employees

SDCOE isn't like a typical school district where most employees work at school sites and only a handful are based at the central office.

With about 170 teachers across Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS) and the special education schools we operate, compared to about 500 employees based on The Hill, there are a lot more SDCOE employees who don't have regular contact with students than those who do.

A new initiative in JCCS, along with a push to encourage SDCOE employees to spend more time on our school campuses, might help change that.

This fall, JCCS implemented student-led conferences, a different approach to parent-teacher conferences. Parents or guardians and teachers are still involved, but the meeting is led by the student.

Allison Wulff, a coordinator in JCCS, volunteered to support student-led conferences at Victoria and South County community schools. Each conference's focus, she explained, was on a piece of work or project the student has done.

"I went into the conferences excited to have an opportunity to interact with our students and see what it is they've been working on, and show our support from the central office," Wulff said.

The students each created a website to showcase their work to family members, teachers, school staff members, and/or JCCS central office staff. The site is the first piece of a digital portfolio that students can expand throughout their high school years. At the conclusion of their presentation, students fielded questions, sharing information about their work, school, passions, goals, and how they work as a team.

Ruben, a student at South County Community School, said the most satisfying part of the experience was showing his work to his mom. Next time, he's going to make a "bigger and better" presentation, he added.

"The students got an opportunity to reflect on the work and progress they've made while with JCCS. They also took a lot of ownership over their educational experience," Wulff explained. "The students weren't hearing someone tell their parents how they're doing; they got to share from their perspective what they've accomplished and what they want to achieve.  Many of them also got to work through the nerves they have around public speaking and become more comfortable in that setting."

Wulff said other JCCS central office employees who participated in the student-led conferences felt connected to the classroom on a more personal level.

"We left feeling encouraged and refreshed after seeing how our students are working hard to achieve their educational goals," she said. "It is a great way to support the students in JCCS and let them know that there are a lot of people in their corner who want to see them succeed."

JCCS leadership expects to offer employees across SDCOE the opportunity to participate in future student-led conferences, in addition to other volunteer opportunities shared at the SDCOE School Year Kickoff.