Vanessa Aguocha-Sam never met her guidance counselor at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, but later found out from another school administrator the counselor plans to retire this year.
In a more serious incident, Annette Moukoury recalled when she witnessed a stabbing at Roosevelt, but received no mental health services from the school on how to cope after a tragic situation.
“I was affected. I was traumatized,” Moukoury said before more than three dozen people April 14 at Bowie High School.
Aguocha-Sam and Moukoury spoke on a six-person student panel on how to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline. Besides more mental health and guidance counselors in Prince George’s County Public Schools, other recommendations included the elimination of student lunch duty and trash pickup, as well as the end of in-school suspensions.
According to a summary on the public schools system’s website, in-school suspension “is when the administrator determines that a student’s conduct warrants removal from class but not the school building. Removing the student within the school building from the student’s educational program for up to but not more than 10 days in a school year for disciplinary reasons by the school principal. The school principal will provide the parent with a written notification of the in-school suspension.”
Sometimes students aren’t notified, the students said.
“You can’t sleep. You just sit there,” said Osato Charles-Omoregbee, a junior at Charles H. Flowers High School.
The other three students on the all-female panel are Ukamake Aneke, Victoria Lanier and Marie Moukoury, Annette Mourkory’s twin sister.
Teenage boys received an invitation to participate in the discussion, but refused when mentioned to express their feelings, said Anuoluwapo Adepegba, 16, who helped organized the chat.
Qiana Johnson, a mass liberation fellow with Progressive Maryland who moderated the discussion, asked her son to join-in but he also declined.
The voices of high school students have become amplified since the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which spurred nationwide student-led walkouts to combat gun violence.
On March 20, a 17-year-old student at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County shot two other students inside the school. A school resource officer is credited with subduing the gunman, who later died of a self-inflicted gunshot.
Four days later, hundreds of thousands joined the student-led March for Our Lives rally in downtown D.C. to force politicians change current gun laws.
The high school students in Bowie said without more mental health services, students will become unproductive adults and possibly future prisoners.
Raheela Ahmed, a school board member who co-hosted the discussion with Progressive Maryland, said her colleagues discussed ways to find money for additional school psychologists and counselors, “but we didn’t do anything about it.”
“The big thing is to make sure these students were empowered to speak about their lived experience and translate that to policy and systemic systemwide change,” said Ahmed, 24. “Our schools aren’t like what they used to be. In today’s time and age, we need to address the social issues that are affecting our students today.”
‘Listen to Us’
Adepegba said a main focus on the discussion pushed for more mental health services and counselors in the schools.
For example, students experience stress on how many honors classes to take which help boost a GPA and in turn, spruces up a college application.
She found out a month ago her school, Charles Flowers, incorporates a school psychologist, but that person rotates services at another school.
“Yes, I may get the highest score on an exam, but if I can’t mentally function as an adult, then how successful will I become?” said Adepebga, an 11th-grader.
Attendees saw a video from Howard University law students that explained how Prince George’s police deployed swat teams almost once a day for misdemeanor offenses. The incidents are based on data from 2015 and the People’s Coalition for Police Accountability.
According to an analysis from Education Week last year, Maryland ranked 10th in the nation among with nearly 22 percent of students arrested during the 2013-14 school year.
Annette Moukoury, a junior at Eleanor Roosevelt who turns 18 in October, disagrees with state lawmakers who approved school safety legislation this month that requires all high schools have a school resource officer.
“It’s unnecessary for students to be around an officer making students feel like convicts,” she said. “We are still minors. It doesn’t help anyone and make more students fearful.”
In regard to student-led protests and speaking up on certain subjects, the student panel urged for adults who implement policy and have “the power” to make change to just simply listen.
“If you aren’t going to listen to us, then how effective is me marching or protesting going to be?” Adepegba said.