Student Voice in Madison Metropolitan School District

There are communities in the United States where young people are working with adults to lift up the voices of students and infuse meaningful student involvement throughout education. In November 2018, SoundOut had a chance to visit Madison, Wisconsin, where they are doing exactly that.

SoundOut staff worked with at with more 150 middle and high school students, classroom teachers, district administrators, and community supporters. We explored a lot of dynamics related to meaningful student involvement: who is involved, how they are involved, where they are involved, when they are involved, and why they are involved. We named new reasons to engage more students, everywhere, all of the time, and we discussed ways that it worked before for engaging students in meaningful ways.

SoundOut led several workshops, including one with students at Capital High School. These are students involved in alternative learning programs, and many are deeply involved in meaningful ways throughout their school. Their principal is a staunch supporter of student voice, and the teachers who are working with students are really dedicated. In this workshop, SoundOut and district staff learned from students about their visions for the future of their school, and the education system in general. We explored some of the roadblocks they faced in their work, and we began unpacking new possibilities for things they could do around the school. It was very powerful.

Sitting with educators, administrators and several students on a new district wide student voice group, SoundOut learned about powerful racial equity work happening in the district. There were questions regarding the effect of general use voice work and it’s impact on work being done to promote African-American youth voice particularly. Does one outweigh the other?

SoundOut also worked directly with district staff focused on youth engagement. We facilitated a community-wide learning opportunity for almost 100 students and adults to learn about meaningful student involvement. During the session, there were a lot of collaborative activities, brainstorming sessions, and planning opportunities for individual schools to begin to take student voice to heart in their school improvement planning and regular activities. We were fascinated to discover all of the ways that student voice is already at work in Madison, and to help plant the seeds for more work to be done.

“Thank you again for a wonderful two days, rich with enthusiasm, growth, and thought-provoking conversations!”

– Hannah Nerenhausen, Ed.M., Family, Youth & Community Engagement Coordinator, Madison Metropolitan School District

It’s been a fascinating 20 years of doing this work, and Madison is helping SoundOut to begin to envision the future that’s ahead as meaningful student involvement continues to grow across the United States and around the world.

Want to learn more?

You Might Like…

Elsewhere Online

Calgary Board of Education Chief Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council

The Calgary Board of Education Chief Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council was a group of public high school students with representation from each of Calgary’s public high school programs. They met regularly with the district’s Chief Superintendent to discuss issues in the system and propose solutions. The council lasted approximately from 2010 to 2014.

Empowering Student Voice Program

The Student Advisory Program was part of a larger district-wide Career and Technology Studies (CTS) program instituted by the Calgary Board of Education. The program, called “Empowering Student Voice,” gave students learning opportunities, course credits, and aligned their activities in context of the Provincial Program of Studies. Of the hundreds of students in the program, 21 were selected to sit on the Chief Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council.

  • Met with the Chief Superintendent at scheduled times without representation from the Board of Trustees
  • The students were required to assist in the planning and hosting of Leadership Symposia for other students

More Info

Oakland Unified School District Student Engagement Office

logo OUSD

Oakland Unified School District Family and Student Engagement Office in Oakland, California operates a district-wide Meaningful Student Engagement Collaborative made of organizations that support Meaningful Student Involvement, student voice, and student-led organizing.

Today, Meaningful Student Engagement (MSE) works with district, site, and community partners to improve student learning and achievement through implementing the Oakland School Board-adopted MSE standards to increase student voice. These standards are based on SoundOut’s frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement.

  • In partnership with site based staff and community-based and grassroots organizations, serving 5,000 high school students across 13 sites though daily site and district level peer to peer leadership programming.
  • Providing professional learning and peer coaching to leadership teachers, to ensure fidelity to MSE curriculum implementation, in middle and high schools.
  • Facilitating youth action research to inform site and district continuous improvement efforts.

You Might Like…

Elsewhere Online

Edmonton Public Schools Student Advisory Council

The Edmonton Public Schools Student Advisory Council serves as the district’s representative group for student voice.

Each high school selects their representatives in the spring. These students carry forward and serve for a year, unless circumstances require a school to select a new council member.

These students are also responsible for selecting the student trustee.

More Info

Chicago Public Schools CEO Student Advisory Council

The CEO’s Student Advisory Council is a forum for direct communication and recommendation between CPS students and the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools. As members of the Council, students share their voice on a variety topics and work to create evidence-based solutions for select issues that are important to students and the district.

  • 20 high school juniors will be selected.
  • Student members represent the diversity of backgrounds, cultures and experiences of students across the district.
  • Students will be selected via an open application process based on character, rationale for joining the Council, commitment to serve, and the unique perspective he or she brings to the Council.
  • Council members are expected to serve an 18-month term that begins January 2015 and concludes in June 2016.
  • Council members must commit to participating in monthly meetings with the CEO, bi-monthly leadership development workshops, and other special events. Some meetings or events may take place during weekend dates.
  • Must currently be a junior enrolled in a CPS high school
  • Must fully complete all sections of the application
  • If selected for an in-person interview, must provide:
    • A recommendation from a non-family member adult (e.g. teacher, guidance counselor, mentor) who can speak to your work ethic, character, team work skills, and level of commitment
    • Signature from a parent or guardian approving participation in the Council

More Info

Montgomery County Board of Education

According to a local school newsletter, the first proposal for a non-voting student representative to join the Montgomery County Board of Education in Maryland emerged in 1975.

In 1977, the Maryland General Assembly amended Section 3-701 of the Education Article of the Annotated Code of the Public General laws of Maryland to create a nonvoting student seat on local boards of education.

During the 1989 session of the Maryland General Assembly, Section 3-701 was again amended and established a limited vote for the student member.

More Info

Maranacook School District

In 2002, the Maranacook School District was considering accepting a grant that would place a school resource officer at their schools. Students discussed this issue at length, brought it to the attention of the student senate, and in turn, the student school board representatives brought it to the attention of the school board.

The student school board representatives worked with the other student senate members, who brought in feedback collected during the homeroom period, to make their case as to why an SRO should not be brought to the campus.

Because of the overwhelming number of students who expressed that having an armed policeman on campus would make being on campus an uncomfortable experience, the grant was declined 15 to 1 by the school board. (2002, Maine Department of Education and Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools)

You Might Like…

Elsewhere Online

Denver Student Board of Education

The Denver Student Board of Education is a group of 30 students who represent the fifteen high schools in the city.

The Denver, Colorado School District hosts a group of 30 students who represent the 15 high schools in district called the Denver Student Board of Education. They are charged to serve as leaders in their schools and represent all students at the district level. Students create projects that affect their local schools and report back on them to the district. They have also created a curriculum that is used in several high school leadership classes.

These students have to ask permission to speak to their regular board, and that does not happen frequently. According to a recent local newspaper article, the district has trepidations about giving students a regular voice in school policy-making. A school district attorney was quoted saying, “The law does not provide for a means by which to create a student position on the board, whether it’s a voting position or not.”

Related Content

Elsewhere Online




Your FREE copies of the Meaningful Student Involvement series are online at

Boston Student Advisory Council


The Boston Student Advisory Council is a citywide body of student leaders representing their respective high schools.

BSAC, which is coordinated by the administered by the district office in partnership with a nonprofit called Youth on Board, offers student perspectives on high school renewal efforts and inform their respective schools about relevant citywide school issues. In addition to personal skill development and knowledge building activities for their 20-plus members, BSAC students have strongly influenced district policy-making about cell phone usage, truancy, reducing the dropout rate, and more.

The students also have regular dialogues with the district superintendent and school board members in order to maintain personal proximity to important decision-makers in the district.

You Might Like…

Elsewhere Online