By Alex Kopish, Editor in Chief
On Saturday, a student wearing a West Bend East High sweatshirt walked into a restaurant in Menomonee Falls and was asked by a stranger, “Were you one of those arrested?”
News travels fast, and last week’s student-led protest march has caused many in West Bend to worry that the once-positive reputation of the high schools has been stained.
“Black eyes go away,” principal Bill Greymont said. “Time heals all wounds.”
A student listening session about the new hallway pass policy was held Thursday, Nov. 20, in the East High cafeteria. Over 300 students attended the meeting and some students took that time to cause a chaotic protest.
“Unfortunately, I do think that the initial media coverage of the protest has negatively affected how the community looks at the schools,” said Jennifer Sroka, an English teacher at East.
“The afternoon of [the protest], what I was mostly hearing was hurt,” said Lois Pellegrini, a West counselor. “People were hurt that this would happen at their school.”
The news of the disorderly protest spread very quickly through social media, traditional media, and other communication sources. News stations such as the West Bend Daily News, Fox 6 News, and WISN 12 had reported the news well before the school day ended. Milwaukee talk radio hosts like Mark Belling offered opinions about the incident and West Bend students.
“I think that many who just saw the news reports of the ‘riot over bathroom passes’ are going to judge our students as immature and impulsive,” Sroka said.
“Even the kids who were maybe a bigger part of it than others, they’ll come back and they’ll wish they had made another choice,” Pellegrini said.
“We have a great reputation as an academic institution,” Greymont said. While he thinks the school’s reputation may be stained for a while, Greymont believes the media attention and work of social networking “speeds the process up.”
“I don’t think [the poor reputation] is anything permanent,” Pellegrini said. “I think it was a moment in time.”
Many students from the high schools have expressed great embarrassment about the protest. “Í just think it’s very unfair that a small amount of our school population has tarnished our reputation so much,” Alexandria Zielinski, an East senior, said. “We are looked at so differently now by people in the community. I think we do great things for our community and we try so hard, it just isn’t fair we aren’t noticed for those things instead.”
“It’s very unfair that a small amount of our school population has tarnished our reputation so much.”
– Alexandria Zielinski, East senior
The student council has a blood drive coming up in December, which in the past has shown to have good results through the community.
“I think the kids have always represented us so well, and I think [they] will continue to do that. It is something we owe the senior class, to move forward so this is no part of their legacy,” Pellegrini said. “We’ve had a very quiet three days now. I think right that next day, I chose to believe that the healing started to begin. We started to regroup, refocus, and our mission never changed and it never wavered.”
“I think the best way for the reputation of the schools, and more importantly the current students, to be fixed is for more of our students to voice their opinions in a respectful and eloquent manner,” Sroka said.
In an interview, Greymont talked about developing new procedures, allowing students to voice their opinions, and focusing a lot on how the new administrators, including himself, could build relationships with the student body. Smaller hearing sessions were held this week, which students could sign up for in the main office. “These are extra steps,” Greymont said. “We’re only a couple days out.”
Pellegrini and Greymont expressed confidence that WBHS could restore its reputation.
“We have two great high schools, [students] are still awesome kids, who every day take my breath away,” Pellegrini said. “None of that can be taken away from [students].”
“In a year, we can do a follow up article about how we’re helping others, helping the community,” Greymont said.
(Top image: Police vehicles park near the East High main entrance on Nov. 20. Photographs by Alex Kopish, Editor in Chief.)