student-conferenceFourth-grader Desiree Marshall shows her parents and explains the work she’s done this year in Red Bank Middle School’s first student-led conferences. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)


It was a nerve-wracking week for fourth graders in Red Bank.

As part of a new initiative to revamp parent-teacher conferences, the students had to steel themselves to step into the spotlight on Wednesday night by replacing the teacher and explaining their own progress this year.

“Everybody was nervous this week,” said Allysa Miller, a science and social studies teacher.

But students took to the meeting with their parents surprisingly well, Miller said, fulfilling the district’s goal to have the children take responsibility for their grades and explain to their parents where they excel, where they need improvement and the goals they have moving forward.

Fourth-grader Desiree Marshall, with Miller watching, explained to her parents, Ben and Lillian, that her favorite subject, and the one she did best in, is math. She passed over pieces of her work and detailed why she received the grades she did.

Her goal, she told her parents, was to develop better studying habits at home to boost her grades.

Clearly nervous to a degree, Desiree was prodded by her mother to speak up and stay engaged with her.

“I’m not seeing those pretty eyes,” Lillian Marshall said.

While it was nice to hear from Desiree about her grades, Ben Marshall said he’d rather get feedback from the teachers.

“I think she was very nervous. She had to be on point in front of us and in front of her teacher,” he said. “I want to hear from the teachers. They’re the experts.”

Miller said she, too, felt dubious about student-led conferences at first, but warmed up to the idea once they got started. They help raise the accountability among students and get the parents more intimately involved in their child’s work, she said.

“I believe it’s so much more powerful for a child to explain to their parents than a teacher,” Miller said.

“This is what you want to see, a child speaking about what they’ve done, taking pride in their work, talking about how they need to improve and their parents listening to them and questioning them,” Miller said.

Red Bank instituted the conferences on a trial basis, and will assess its value through the year to decide whether to go forward with them, Superintendent Laura Morana said.

Ben Marshall, who said he’s neutral about the conferences, said he can see a benefit to them, but doesn’t think they should be the standard.

“I wouldn’t mind doing them once throughout the year,” he said. “but definitely not permanent.”