Dear Adult Leaders: Students are the Foundations of Schools. Learn From My District and Give Students a Seat at the Table
This article forms a part of the "Dear Adult Leaders: Listen to Youth" series, which is a collaborative effort between America’s Promise Alliance and "Dear Adult Leaders: Listen to Youth" to give voice to students in the ongoing national conversation about how to educate young people during the global pandemic. In this series, students write open letters to adult leaders and policymakers, sharing their experiences and offering insights on how the American education system should adapt. We encourage you to read all the pieces in this series as they are published. For more coverage on issues affecting young people, you can also explore our other articles. This week’s letters specifically address the importance of including youth in the decision-making process.
To the esteemed administrators of schools,
Across our great nation, young individuals are finding ways, both big and small, to make their voices heard. They are at the forefront of protests against racial injustice, utilizing social media platforms to expose unsafe learning conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and actively seeking ways to create a fair, safe, and equitable environment in their schools and communities. Rather than shying away from this youth activism, schools should wholeheartedly embrace it. When it comes to making crucial decisions, such as school reopening plans, schools and school boards must ensure that young people have a seat at the table.
When this inclusion occurs, it is empowering for both students and the leaders in charge. I speak from personal experience, as a member of a social justice club called Game Changers in my high school in St. Louis, Missouri. We strive to make our voices heard within our school and the wider community. This past summer, for instance, we organized a Black Lives Matter protest. Teachers, students, administrators, and community members marched side-by-side in the rain to protest against police brutality. Moreover, when our superintendent contemplates changes that will impact students, he actively seeks the input of Game Changers members to engage directly with students and gain valuable perspectives.
I can confidently assert that this process goes beyond mere token gestures. Students’ voices are not only acknowledged but also acted upon. Last year, I had the honor of being part of the School Improvement Team. Alongside my peers, I sat down with the principal to discuss issues plaguing the school, such as overcrowded hallways—a persistent problem. We shared ideas on how to facilitate smoother transitions between classes for students. As a direct result of our input, the school implemented hall sweeps to ensure that students reached their classrooms on time, without unnecessarily blocking the hallways while chatting with friends. Student voices played a crucial role, as ultimately, these decisions significantly impact students above all else.
Students serve as the foundation of any school community, making it imperative that they have a seat at the decision-making table. In my district, efforts have been made to provide space for student voice by including student representatives on the board of education. I am presently running to fill one of these positions, well-aware of the power of my voice and my ability to communicate my peers’ perspectives on necessary changes.
My school district stands ahead of many others when it comes to embracing student input. Nevertheless, for others to follow suit, a fundamental shift in mindset among educators and administrators might be required. Pride often obstructs youth involvement, as adults fear being perceived as inadequate if they seek ideas or opinions from their students. However, as I have witnessed in my own school, when adults in positions of authority view young people as colleagues and collaborators, progress can genuinely be made in increasing youth engagement.
My personal motto is "Stay learning ready and information-hungry." In this context, adults must be prepared to learn from young individuals and eagerly embrace the information they possess. Similarly, young people must remain open to learning from adults and eagerly seek out the knowledge they can provide. It is through this balanced exchange that true progress can be achieved.
As young people come to realize the power of our voices and how to use it effectively, schools should perceive it as an opportunity for growth. When schools recognize and embrace student voices, they will become more inclusive and equitable environments for both students and teachers.
Azariah "Z" Estes, a 16-year-old student
Ritenour Sr. High school
St. Louis, Missouri
This series, which sheds light on the perspectives of American youth, is sponsored in part by Pure Edge, Inc. This foundation equips educators and learners with strategies to combat stress and develop social, emotional, and academic competencies.
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