The Massachusetts State Student Advisory Council (MSSAC) is a group of students elected by their peers from schools throughout Massachusetts who are helping make decisions about state educational policy and student rights. These students are initiating and carrying through projects to make changes in local schools.
SSAC is composed of five Regional Councils and the State Council. According to state mandate, every secondary school must elect two delegates to a Regional SAC. Each Regional Council elects eight (Greater Boston elects twelve) members to the State SAC. The State SAC has its own projects, but also helps coordinate those of the Regional SACs. The SSAC serves as a communication network to share educational information among all students.
The student Chairperson of the State SAC serves as a full voting member of the Massachusetts Board of Education.
The chairperson represents the needs and the ideas of all students in Massachusetts and is a communication link from the Board to the SSAC. To facilitate education, students must be thought of as participants in, not merely recipients of, the educational process.
The Office of Students and Youth is a former program of the United States Office of Education, now known as the United States Department of Education. Launched in 1969, the first leader of the office was Toby Moffet.
the office was created for several reasons:
To seek technical and financial assistance for innovative student-run programs
Keep USOE tuned in to students, and
Present a national overview of school tensions and ways of dealing with them
Run the Student Information Center in Washington, D.C., staffed mainly by local students, the center collects information on innovations in public high schools, especially those started by students; student rights; and participation in governance.
The Student Information Center also established a clearinghouse of information on secondary school issues, especially student-initiated reforms.
Moffett, A.J., Jr. (May 1970) “Youth Gets a Voice in New Student Center,” Nation’s Schools, 85(5). pp. 57-59.
Getting mad, fighting pointlessly against adults or simply acting out can stifle student voice. When students organize for school transformation, they can fight together with unified voices for social justice and against unfairness in education. Engaging students as activists can be an empowering learning experience that transforms education in deep ways.
There are many things activists do. Picketing, surveying, protesting, letter writing and different ways of activating to change schools can be powerful levers to make a difference. Student activists can act alone, or with other people to produce immediate results, all affecting their local schools, districts and state education systems.
Responsive student voices challenge adults to listen in new ways for what’s happening among and within students RIGHT NOW. It offers critical, assertive and direct expressions of learners about what is current and essential in their experience. This article explores what it looks like in practice.
Understanding Student Responsiveness
Exploring what a situation, example, tradition or outcome means to them, responsive student voice positions young people as substantial contributors and partners in the school improvement process. Their visions are honored; their experiences are centralized, and; their wisdom, knowledge, ideas, opinions and values are respected.
Although on first glance it might look the same, responsive student voice is different from typical student voice in several ways. SoundOut has found it is distinguished by immediacy, relevance, intensity and response.
Adults often don’t understand or immediately dismiss the hyper-intense expressions of students in schools. Labelled as distractions or viewed as “inconvenient,” here I introduce “responsive student voice” as a new way of contextualizing spastic-appearing but still essential wisdom, knowledge, actions and ideas from students.
Examples of Responsive Student Voice
Responsive student voice can have a lot of different appearances and expressions. They can include:
Student Speakout—At this event, student or adult facilitators can create space for students to speak their piece about what’s happening within a school. Focused on creating a safe and supportive environment for student voice, these events can respond to the most urgent issues at hand.
Fighting—Appearing as bullying or unchecked expression, fighting can be a powerful form of responsive student voice that tells educators a school feels unsafe, students feel vulnerable, and communication has broken down, along with many other lessons. Students make themselves heard; adults often simply respond with punishment. Fighting result in intentional community-building and much more.
Letters to the Editor—Writing about specific, critical and urgent situations with realistic suggestions for substantive action can be a direct way for student voice to be heard.
Graffiti—In spaces where learners cannot address adults, educators, administrators and others directly, strategic graffiti can provide students with an obvious, impactful voice that is otherwise stifled. When the art reflects current issues students face in schools, this can be a very impactful avenue for responsive student voice.
Learning Projects—Educators can create spaces for students to express themselves while learning through active, expressive learning projects within classrooms. Its essential for these projects to grant credit and for educators to acknowledge that sharing student voice about education is a valid way to learn.
Because of the confrontational appearance of some responsive student voice, it is important to understand that responsive student voice is often not intended for adultsto hear; instead, its meant for students to speak out to each other. However, as responsible educators we have an obligation to listen between the words and make sense of what might seem senseless.
Listen for responsive student voice and respond to this article in the comments section below.
Based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the UnifiEd Student Voice Team has been advocating for school transformation since 2014. Focused on improving K-12 learning in Hamilton County, students have worked with parents, school board members, educators and others to affect classrooms, create school programs, and drive policy change affecting thousands of learners.
Action and Outcomes
Student-created surveys were developed and administered by the Student Voice Team to over 450 Hamilton County high school students in the 2018-19 school year. These showed that students’ top priority for school improvement was in the area of mental health.
For instance, during the summer of 2019 the UnifiEd Student Voice Team researched how to implement best practices in mental health in Hamilton County Schools. At the beginning of the school year, the students’ advocacy resulted in the creation of a student support center in a local school.
In 2001, the Hamilton County School Board added a student member to their board. In 2016-17 and 2017-18, students from UnifiEd’s training programs Student Voice Team joined the board, ensuring student voice was empowered and capable of positively impacting district policy-making. Before then, the Student Voice Team worked with the school board attorney to update the system-wide bullying and harassment policy.
Approximately 30 high school students from across HCDE have been trained as organizers within their schools by UnifiEd staff.
Student Voice Team member at STEM School successfully advocated for the adoption of bylaws for its Student Support Senate to clarify the group’s role and bring awareness of its purpose to more students.
Students were a significant portion of respondents to the APEX equity survey, which identified the most urgent inequities in our schools and informed the work being undertaken by APEX Action Teams.
After the Student Voice Team successfully implemented a student Principal Advisory Council at Lookout Valley Middle and High School, students continued working on implementing Principal Advisory Councils in other Hamilton County High Schools, too.
Through the years, the UnifiEd Student Voice Team impacted individual schools and the district, making student voice a driving force for school improvement throughout Chattanooga and beyond.
SoundOut offers ONLINE training about students on school boards, including professional development for adults and student workshops.
In a climate where more attention is being paid to student voice in the classroom, many are asking how school boards might approach incorporating students into their work in a way that goes beyond inviting someone to report on Homecoming festivities.
Bring SoundOut to your school district or conference for a workshop dedicated to understanding the power of student voice and the possibilities of student representation on the board of education. Adam Fletcher, a leading expert on student voice and representation, explores the benefits, challenges and opportunities for engaging students in the work of boards in a deep and meaningful way.
In our sessions about students on school boards, participants…
Learn what student voice is, what it does, who it is for and how it happens;
Explore roles for students on school boards, including activities, topics and outcomes that are appropriate for them;
Understand how students are engaged on boards, including recruitment, training, maintaining and evaluating their roles, and;