Students at the 2015 SoundOut Student Voice Summer Camp at Cleveland High School in Seattle.

Summer Camp Day Two: Why School?

On day two of the 2015 SoundOut Student Voice Summer Camp, students began to make meaning of the question, “Why school?”

Our camp cohort, who are all students of color, are enlivened by the question. Suddenly connecting camp with their regular school year learning, they connect schools with issues like gentrification, white privilege, discrimination and more. Authors like James Baldwin and Ann Petry are brought up by some, while others detail their hopes and dreams for education.

We examine the meanings of words, including the difference between school, learning and education. Students raise the issue of mindsets in school, and the importance of staying focused on your goals versus simply listening to where parents, teachers and other students think you should go.

Students have the opportunity to watch introductory presentations from another camp in the school called Project 206. Developed to introduce high school freshman to Cleveland, their participants have to present their own learning projects focused on the effects of gentrification on their neighborhoods. The SoundOut Summer Camp students remember their own introduction to Cleveland this way, and enjoy watching their incoming peers to the building.

The day continues by exploring songs focused on schools, education and learning, like Peter Tosh singing “You Can’t Blame the Youth” and the White Stripes’ “We Are Going To Be Friends”. I found Pink Floyds “Another Brick In The Wall Part II”, and suddenly all of them were humming the chorus: “We don’t need no education…”

At the end of the day, students had largely concluded that education was theirs to learn, and school is one vessel to use among many throughout their lives. Students closed out the day by exploring their thoughts on Maya Angelou’s quote,

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”


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Students as Integrated ResourceS (SIRS)

At Hudson High School of Teaching Technology in New York City, New York, students can participate in a program called Students as Integrated ResourceS, or SIRS. The program positions students in active student/adult partnerships that can foster Meaningful Student Involvement.

According to the teachers who operate it,  students volunteer and come in after school to participate in a hands on activity. In this setting, students and teachers discussed challenges, understandings, and possible mistakes. When their peers do the same activity in class, these specially trained students act as teachers who answer questions, help with procedures, monitor safety, and even engage the unmotivated individuals.

These SIRS have become an integrated and a necessary part of the class. On an occasion, one student who raised their hand for help saw a teacher coming and said “No, no. I want a SIRS.”

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StudentVoicesNUA™ is a program of the National Urban Alliance. It provides students with opportunities to co-create with teachers innovative curriculum-related projects using 21st century technology, to increase their involvement in professional development, to mediate literacy and learning strategies for parents, and to participate in leadership discussions and decision-making. An exciting part of StudentVoicesNUA™ is having students co-teach instructional units with their teachers.

StudentVoicesNUA™ have included student-produced publications, radio shows and videos; lessons plans co-created and presented by students; debating and public speaking; electronic field trips; student-led convocations; and podcasts.

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The Neutral Zone

In 1998, teens in Ann Arbor, Michigan worked together with adult allies to form a nonprofit youth center called The Neutral Zone. Driven and centered by young people and their interests, the organization has made powerful inroads for youth throughout their area. In 2012, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) approached the organization about infusing student voice across the state through the agency’s Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) initiative.

Targeting the lowest performing high schools statewide in Michigan, the program sought to raise levels of academic achievement through new school reform programs. Neutral Zone provided training and coaching to support teams of both staff and students from six pilot high schools. The goals were to have each team research school issues related to their school reform efforts, plan and implement a project that addresses one of the issues and to create an advisory body that could support sustained student involvement.

Over the last three years, Neutral Zone has provided intensive support for 20 high schools statewide focused on training and technical assistance on student voice. Their work has been lauded by the MDE as a success, with reports of student-driven projects that engage students deeply coming in from across the state.

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Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Student Advisory Board

The Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Student Advisory Board was created to include student voice and perspectives in statewide education policy decisions. Additionally, including student voice at the local level is a critical component of the mission of Graduation Matters Montana.

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Meaningful Student Involvement in Bothell, Washington

This video features a SoundOut project in a school in Washington State called the Secondary Academy for Success, or SAS. At SAS, we provided professional development for teachers. We also facilitated skill-building and knowledge-sharing workshops for students, as well as an informational night for parents and the community.

Afterwards, students co-led a school-wide student forum where we all collected info about school improvement. Students eventually partnered with teachers to co-create designs for a new school building, as well as provide ongoing input in the overall school improvement planning process. Watch the video, read the report and share your comments below!

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Adam Fletcher speaking in Kentucky in 2014.

Students on School Boards Frequently Asked Questions

This is the SoundOut Students On School Boards Toolkit by Adam Fletcher. It includes research, examples and more. SoundOut offers professional development and training! For more information contact us.

These article shares some of the frequently asked questions SoundOut has collected after more than a decade of training school boards, students, and others about students on school boards. Where there are links, there is more information.

1. Can students join my district school boards and/or the state board of education?

It depends on which state you live in.

2. In the United States, are students guaranteed representation on the school board?


3. Which students can serve on school boards?

It depends on what rules are set by state laws and/or local school boards. Most school boards consist of adults who live in the local community and are selected by the community (or, if it’s an appointed school board, selected by either the mayor or county elected officials). They are parents, grandparents, local business owners, retirees and other ordinary people. They are non-partisan. Students who serve on school boards should be the same: Ordinary, everyday students. They should be struggling students, average achieving students or high achieving; fully disengaged or completely busy; students of color or white students; girls and boys and students who identify otherwise. However, they can be whichever students are chosen by local or state rules and regulations.

4. What is the role of the school board and students on school boards?

The school board should represent the concerns of local people to school administrators, and to represent the needs of the students and school district to the the community. The school board does not operate the district on a day-to-day basis; that is the job of the superintendent, who is the district’s chief executive. Rather, the school board sets the policies, goals and objectives for the district – and it holds the superintendent responsible for implementing the policies and achieving the goals. Students on school boards should participate fully in ALL of these activities. Discover different roles for students on school boards.

5. I have a problem with my school. When is the student school board member the right person to share it with?

SoundOut suggests students work with the leadership structure in schools to address their concerns, which can help promote Meaningful Student Involvement. For instance, if a student has a problem with a teacher, the student should first address it with the teacher and, if the issue is not resolved, the student should turn to the principal or headmaster. If that fails, they can bring their concerns to the student school board member, and then the district superintendent. In districts with student representatives, students addressing the school board should be the last resort. Often, students can get answers to their questions simply by calling the right person in the school district.

6. Can students speak at school board meetings?

Generally, state laws require a public comment period at school board meetings, no matter whether they are students or adults. Boards are allowed to establish reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of public comment. For instance, school boards typically set guidelines on the length of an individual’s comment (e.g., a certain amount of time per person), so no one person dominates the meeting. There is no required format for public comment; some boards have one public-comment period in the middle of the meeting, some have two public-comment sessions during a board meeting.

Some districts have student representatives attend school board meetings but do not allow them to talk unless they are invited to. Few states have laws mandating students be able to fully participate as full members of school boards. Several states legally prohibit students from joining school boards.

7. What is proper protocol for public participation?

Comments from the public generally go through the chair at the board meeting who is usually the board president. Boards use the public comment period as an opportunity to listen to citizen concerns, but not to debate issues or enter into a question-and-answer session or a “cross examination” between the public and individual members. Be aware that not all issues brought before a board meeting will be resolved that evening; boards may respond to public comment by seeking additional information or by delegating the authority to investigate the issue to the superintendent or his/her designee. While public education can be an emotional issue, and understandably so, the board will strive to maintain a certain level of decorum at the meeting. Many meetings are recorded or televised, and students often attend or participate in the meetings. As such, citizens are expected to maintain tone of courtesy and civility.

8. How does the board set its rules at the meeting?

A local school board’s parliamentary procedure is a matter of local policy. Most boards follow Roberts Rules of Order, which describes how meetings are run, how motions and votes are taken and other procedures. The school board’s secretary can inform citizens on rules of order and other issues of board policy.

9. The board goes into a closed-door meeting each meeting. Why can’t the public and students witness what occurs there?

Often, state laws dictate areas that are to be discussed in “executive” or closed-door sessions. Among the most common include privacy issues (including employee privacy as well as matters dealing with individual students and student discipline); anticipated litigation and issues involving attorney-client privilege; negotiations with labor unions and negotiating strategy; matters involving the purchase of property; and any issues dealing with security that could undermine safety if made public. Sometimes, citizens will want to know why a school board took a vote regarding a particular staff member (e.g., not re-hiring a teacher or principal). However, school board members are not allowed to publicly discuss evaluative aspects of the staff member’s employment, unless the employee authorizes it.

Sometimes student school board members are limited as to which topics they are allowed to hear during meetings. They can include any of the above, as well as anything else determined by the school board.

10. What is a board agenda?

A board agenda is a plan for the meeting set to happen. Generally, school boards are not required by law to post an agenda for each meeting. However, most do have an agenda. If they do, the agenda must reasonably reflect the matters to be discussed. However, the board is not precluded from addressing an issue that arises just because it was not on the agenda. In some states and provinces, school boards must publicly post an annual notice describing the date and location of meetings. However, they aren’t obligated to share their agendas.

11. My school board seems to rapidly work through the agenda, without much debate. Why is that?

There are different ways to conduct school board meetings that are very public or very private. School boards can meet openly for the majority of their matters. Sometimes, school boards have a “workshop” or “caucus” meeting where they discuss issues in greater detail, but don’t vote on the issues. Sometimes, they will hear a wide range of public opinions in general sessions and then go into workshop sessions. Boards may use a committee structure where certain members of the board, often working with the superintendent or key administrators, study a specific issue and make recommendations to the full board for a vote. By the time the board has a regular “agenda” or “business” meeting where it votes on issues, the agenda items have usually been vetted or studied already and members are simply prepared to vote up or down an issue.

12. What is the difference between school board policy and state or provincial regulations and statutes?

School board policies, regulations and statutes all govern the ways school boards behave. Statutes are the laws that are enacted by state or, in Canada, provincial legislators. Usually the law will contain broad language on an issue, and it will authorize the appropriate agency (which could be the state Department of Education, or DOE; or Superintendent of Public Instruction, or SPI; or other state education agencies; and in Canada, Ministries of Education) to write regulations, also called “administrative code,” that detail how the law will be carried out.

Local public schools must adhere to state or provincial statutes and regulations. There are many aspects of school management that the state does not manage. Those are covered by the local school board’s policies, which are the local school board’s rules and guidelines that detail how the district will operate. Policies address many issues ranging from student discipline and dress codes to whether the district will rent the gym to community groups after school hours. The province or state generally does not delve into the oversight of local board policies unless there is a specific law requiring boards to have policies on an issue (such as bullying), or if the local board’s policies are found to be arbitrary or capricious, or have otherwise run afoul of state laws and regulations.

13. What role does the state/province school board association or the state department of education or state superintendent play?

School board associations are service organizations that may provide training, assistance and advocacy for local school boards. However, they are generally not regulatory agencies and do not have authority over local school districts. State departments of education and provincial ministries of education are the agencies that regulate public schools.

If a person has an issue that cannot be resolved by working up the chain of command locally, he or she can bring it to the attention of their provincial or state education agency. These agencies often serve as an effective liaison between local residents and the state or provincial education agency. There may be School Ethics Commissions or education ombudsmen who hear cases involving conflicts of interest and possible ethics violations. The state education leader or minister of education also hears many cases dealing with education issues.

Adapted from the New Jersey School Boards Association – Parent Connections.

Students on School Boards Toolkit

Students on School Boards in Canada

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School Boards of the Future by Adam Fletcher

Cities in Schools Program

In modern schools... Assessment happens through Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at teacher with the Cities in Schools program in New York City engaged her students as evaluators in order to transform her practice.

She wanted to provide students with the experience of being in charge while helping them to develop skills in written and oral communication and logic. Believing students must be treated- and must see themselves- as working evaluators, the teacher also believed staff members could get usable information about their programs from student evaluators. Throughout, she assured students their evaluations were real and would be used in the programs.

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  • Campell, P., Edgar, S. and Halsted, A.L. (October 1994) “Students as Evaluators: A Model for Program Evaluation,” Phi Delta Kappan, 76, 2.

Student Voice Initiative

In modern schools... Leadership happens through Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at Student Voice Initiative, or SVI, is a national organization in Canada that works with school boards to strengthen student engagement in Canada.

From the perspective that students on school boards are the ultimate solution for effective student voice, SVI provides tailored expertise and action planning to help boards, districts and divisions build and improve robust student engagement models. They also share the stories of exceptional student engagement successes across the country to encourage change in education systems across the globe.

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Escola da Ponte

Escola da Ponte is a school in Portugal that has embodied Meaningful Student Involvement in classrooms successfully for over 30 years.

Students voluntarily attend workshops to learn how to direct their learning processes. These courses are supervised by teachers trained in active methodologies. After they’ve completed these workshops, students develop the school’s curricula. Mainly governed by a weekly assembly, the school is organized and totally run by students.

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