Recently, I spoke with a friend and colleague in California about student voice in her state. Sharing the many, many examples on the top of my head of what is happening in the state, I am reminded of the positive, powerful potential of students who are making change in their schools everywhere. California has experienced that transformation for decades now, and I want to highlight some of what’s happened there.
Statewide Student Voice
There are student voice programs, activities and organizations working across the entire state of California. They’ve had powerful successes, made lasting change, and created foundations for education transformation that will be felt for generations.
In June 2018, California Governor Edmund Brown signed the 2018-2019 California state budget. That budget includes $28.3 million for the Local Control Funding Formula, which supports student voice in district planning statewide. Lobbied for heavily by students, its a direct victory for student voice across the state. School districts are now required to engage student voice in budgeting. This effort started in 2014 when the Californians for Justice campaign led a statewide student advocacy movement to make room for student voice in local funding decisions through the Local Control Funding Formula. Their influence was felt in the victory for student voice that happened in June 2018. Succeeding, the campaign succeeded in making room for student voice in every district statewide. The campaign also promoted understanding about student voice, student rights and more.
More than a decade ago, I found research about students on school boards in California from the 1970s. Turns out students have been voting on the California State School Board for more than thirty years, and they’ve been members of California district school boards for more than 50 years. The California Association of Student Councils has been rallying student voice and driving Meaningful Student Involvement in the California Legislature for more than a decade. They also train students about education and school reform, and constantly advocate for student involvement in state-level decision-making. They operate several programs for the state’s education system, including theStudent Advisory Board on Education (SABE) and Student Advisory Board on Legislation in Education (SABLE).
Local Student Voice
There are local-level student voice organizations, campaigns and activities transforming schools throughout California. Illustrating the meaningful involvement of students throughout public education, these entities have taken student voice to new heights in terms of sustainability, substance and outcomes. Some of these programs include:
- APYPAL, or Asian Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy & Leadership, which has facilitated leadership development of more than 450 youth leaders and has engaged over 4,500 young people in grassroots education campaigns.
- Kids First Oakland, which has a youth leadership program called Representing Educated Active Leaders Having A Righteous Dream, or REAL HARD. For more than a decade, students in REAL HARD have focused on transforming school culture with students as culture drivers who implement shared values and create respectful learning spaces.
- SC-YEA, or South Central Youth Empowered through Action in Los Angeles. They are developing the next generation of activists capable of leading their peers and impacting public policy in their schools and community. By hosting chapters on high school campuses across South LA, SCYEA aims to amplify the voices of students in education decision-making. They launched a campaign to hold schools accountable for A-G course requirements, and also recently pressured the local school district to repair and build new schools with a $2.4 billion school bond, and to add $153 million dollars for additional school repairs previously overlooked in their community.
- Youth Together works throughout the Bay Area to empower student voice in broad ways that impact students in schools everyday. One of their most recent projects was a Listening Campaign led by students to highlight issues students face in schools right now, and to develop student-led solutions to those issues.
- Coleman Advocates organizes low-income high school students of color in San Francisco through a program called Youth Making A Change. Since 1991, thousands of students have led advocacy efforts to stand for and win innovative programs for San Francisco’s high schools and students. Their successes include Wellness Centers and SF Youth Vote, as well as landmark policies to close the racial achievement gap.
Other organizations that engage students in actively transforming K-12 schools include Innercity Struggle in LA and the Alliance for Education Justice, which works statewide. There are also student-driven school transformation activities being led by California Youth Connection; Sacramento ACT; RYSE Center (Richmond); People Acting in Community Together (San Jose); Families in Schools (Los Angeles), and; Khmer Girls in Action (Long Beach).
More Student Voice
There are powerful activities happening across the entire state, some helping every student in every community; others focusing on Black, Brown, Latinx, and Asian Pacific Islanders; while others help GBLTQQ students and others, too.
One of the most systemic efforts happening in California today is in the Oakland Public Schools, where they have had a number of efforts focused on what they call “Meaningful Student Engagement” on and off for more than a decade. Some of their programs include Meaningful Student Engagement Leadership Teacher Community of Practice, where Leadership class teachers support each other in fostering the conditions for students to be meaningfully engaged in shaping school culture and climate; an All City Council (ACC) Governing Board, which seeks to amplify student voice by serving as a bridge between adult decision makers and the student body, and; Youth Voice with Continuous Improvement, through which the district provides technical assistance with the formation and democratic election of School Governance Teams. They support middle and high school students to participate on School Site Councils and the District-Wide LCAP Student Advisory, too.
Finally, for three years from 2012 to 2014, the National Student Power Convergence drew together high school and college student organizers across the country in Oakland. Dream Defenders, Moral Monday arrestees, high schoolers resisting school closings and police brutality, statewide organizers from Ohio, New York, California and beyond came together to trade tactics and experiences, elevate disenfranchised voices, link struggles from different regions to build something bigger.
Students in Oakland created a high school. Alternatives in Action High School was founded in 2001 when students worked with adults to design, write, and submit a petition for a charter school to the Alameda Unified School District Board of Trustees. After a unanimous vote of approval, the school opened. The school’s Charter was subsequently renewed again by unanimous vote of the Alameda Unified School Board in 2006 and 2011.
SoundOut has worked in several schools throughout California, too. The San Rafael City Schools has hosted the SoundOut Summit, a school improvement opportunity designed to empower students to transform the learning, teaching and leadership at schools in their district. We partnered with a national nonprofit called Generation YES to provide Powerful Student Leader training at 50 middle schools in the Central Valley, and we provided technical assistance to Oakland Public Schools to build their Meaningful Student Engagement program.
There is a lot more history in California, including student voice activism and Meaningful Student Involvement in K-12 schools going back to the 1920s and 30s. However, I’ll cover that in separate article. For now, please share anything you know about in California in the comments section, and share this article with your networks!
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