Survey reveals many Gen Z students feel schools lack direction and fail to inspire

In pursuit of her medical career passion, California’s high school individual, Ella Mayor, discovers gratification by serving as a part-time pharmacy technician, honing skills beyond those obtainable in a classroom setting.

California high schooler Ella Mayor

Mayor, a senior student at Santa Susana High School in Simi Valley, often finds herself mechanically engaged in her classes, feeling disconnected from the coursework.

The after-school work is what truly ignites her passion.

“If you’re not engaged with school and involved in clubs and have a group of friends that help you stay around, I understand why you wouldn’t feel that sense of comfort and purpose going to school,” Mayor, 18, expressed to The 74.

Mayor represents a sizable cohort of disenchanted and alienated Gen Z learners.

A fresh report by Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation analyzed over 1,000 Gen Z students aged 12 to 18, revealing that less than half of them in middle or high school felt motivated to attend classes. Approximately half indicated experiencing something captivating daily in school.

The study identified that the primary catalyst for the happiness of Gen Z learners is their “sense of purpose” in work and school, with over 60% reporting themselves as content.

The outlook among Gen Z individuals has prompted educators nationwide to adapt their methodologies and mindset to discover novel ways to engage students, ranging from offering diverse elective classes like graphic design and culinary arts to providing internships aligned with their career aspirations.

This transformation aligns with the growing preference among high school students for on-the-job training over traditional postsecondary alternatives, including a bachelor’s degree.

Walton Family Foundation Voices of Gen Z Study

Mayor acknowledged that the survey outcomes were “not particularly surprising.”

She observed that many of her classmates have distanced themselves from school, as instructors often correlate students’ future success with their academic performance, neglecting their talents in areas like art or sports, which Mayor feels should be acknowledged and nurtured by educators.

Courtney Walker (Carrolltown High School)

Addressing student disengagement, Courtney Walker, an assistant principal at Carrolltown High School in Georgia, introduces elective courses such as graphic design and culinary arts. She also utilizes career aptitude assessments to gauge students’ proficiencies.

“Whenever we introduce new elective courses, we leverage the [career aptitude test] data to design courses that align with students’ interests, in which they could excel,” Walker informed The 74.

Walker mentioned that high school seniors who have fulfilled graduation requirements are involved in internships.

“We once had a student with a clear ambition to become a pilot, so we arranged an internship at the West Georgia Regional Airport for him,” Walker recalled.

“We’re dedicated to ensuring that students have the chance to explore fields they are genuinely passionate about, so they graduate with not just a diploma but also a well-crafted plan for success,” she emphasized.

Kimberly Winterbottom (Marley Middle School)

Kimberly Winterbottom, principal at Marley Middle School in Maryland, highlights the importance of students feeling “connected” to their peers and adults, including teachers or trusted mentors.

“We invest significant effort in linking students to their interests, be it through clubs or, if they’re struggling, by connecting them with a supportive adult,” Winterbottom shared with The 74.

Winterbottom emphasized the effectiveness of direct conversations with students on the significance of active engagement in school.

“Adults often overlook the importance of explaining the ‘why’ to students, but when we do, it leads to revelations and increased student investment,” Winterbottom concluded.

The 74

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