Even though our January 13 webinar on Student Voice (from our CLAD series) had to be postponed, we are still seizing the opportunity to underline the importance of this element of the Democracy Schools model. During the 20-21 school year, fourteen of our Democracy Schools engaged in a renewal process, which included a school-wide self-assessment of civic learning. Here are a few examples of how they are engaging in best practices in the area of Student Voice:
~Grant Murray, Lakes Community High School (2012)
Lakes Community High School Diversity Ambassadors meet regularly with Principal David Newberry to address diversity in the building. The group's focus is on promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion at Lakes and in the community. Recently, the ambassadors conducted a round table discussion with community members to address these issues. The round table was completely student run and a great success for the group.
~Julie and Phil Donner, Carmel Catholic High School (2011)
The Program and Student Life committee is a standing committee of the School Board of Carmel Catholic High School. The committee seeks to continually reflect on and improve the student experience at Carmel, addressing long-term planning and more immediate issues that arise. The committee membership includes Board members, parents, faculty, and student representatives. Students who serve on the committee have full voice in the work of the committee. The committee also engages the Student Council and has periodically asked the Student Council to anonymously survey the entire student body to gain feedback on issues facing the students.
~Bernadette Ryan, East Leyden High School (2014)
Leyden District 212 which includes both East Leyden and West Leyden High Schools, has facilitated district and school-wide democratic deliberation on school issues in two very powerful ways.
The Board of Education has invited student representatives, one from each high school, to the board for the past six years. This brings the student voice right into the boardroom and engages students as a whole. Student representatives voice student perspectives and concerns on matters brought to their attention and report back to students through social media to inform and engage the student body.
In the spring of 2021, shortly after Leyden High School District 212′s Board of Education adopted an Equity and Justice statement that aligns with its mission statement to educate, enrich and empower students and community members, a Student Equity Board was created at East Leyden composed of administrators, teachers, and students from diverse backgrounds. West Leyden is in the process of creating a board for the 2021-2022 school year. The mission of the Student Equity Board is to “recognize, embrace, and cultivate a school culture grounded in equity which aims to educate and empower our students and our community.” The goals are to “notice, name, and interrupt policies, practices, and other forms of inequities and injustices” and to ‘advocate equity and justice for marginalized communities.” Students participated in a Student Equity Board Summit in July 2021 and attend monthly meetings that address school issues.
Adrijana Bisevac, Grayslake North High School (2014)
“Minority Rule” was started and led by two Senior students who wanted to create a group at GNHS to highlight and celebrate diverse voices in literature, poetry, spoken word, song etc. and engage in discussion of those works beyond the classroom. The student leaders would select the works as well as curate discussion questions for the meetings, which were typically held every other Friday after-school in the school library, and later via Zoom when they transitioned to virtual learning. All students, staff members, and administrators were invited to attend these meetings and participate in the discussion, although a core group emerged of approximately 20-30 people who attended regularly. The student leaders solicited input from other students regarding what works should be the focus of the meeting, created and sent out discussion questions in advance of the meeting, and students then served as the leaders and facilitators during the discussions.
For example, some of the selected works included reading and analyzing excerpts from Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez, Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience edited by Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond, and excerpts from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, listening and analyzing lyrics from Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur, spoken word from ALOK, as well as many more. These are just a few of the highlights. Students wanted to ensure there were diverse voices represented in the works they were engaging with and that the discussion was not only centered upon the works but that the discussion always meaningfully connected back to GNHS and how they could better solicit and incorporate student voice in the classroom and school and ensure that diverse voices were being represented and heard in order to create a more inclusive and equitable school culture, community, and environment for all students.