Students at Collège Churchill High School’s Youth for Diversity, or YFD, group struggle to effect long lasting and significant change in the school culture. The school is located in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The group’s meetings offer many students hope as they pool their leadership, vision, skills, and hands to carry out objectives. The group has existed in various forms over at least five years. Their meetings offer the comfort of shared experiences and challenges, advice, listening ears and new approaches to combat stereotyping and antagonism. YFD has initiated:
Powerful poster campaigns
Gays of action (e.g. Day of Silence)
The school’s staff members have been supportive, allowing YFD members into their classrooms for presentations, display posters and rainbow stickers, and let members miss classes for group activities. Administration has provided them with funding and access to school resources like printing.
Some places embody SoundOut’s work entirely. We called these Meaningful Student Involvement Schools.
Within these schools, the cascading effects of Meaningful Student Involvement on both individuals and institutions is obvious. They show clearly that the more individual opportunities for meaningful involvement in a specific class, around a school building, throughout a district, within a state, or across a nation, the more meaningful education will be for every single student involved. This includes different ages, socio-economic statuses, cultural backgrounds, racial differences, and soon on.
When taken as a whole, though, individual actions within and throughout a school supersede isolated incidents and ripple far beyond the people involved. Meaningful Student Involvement simply works better when it happens more. As shown in the earlier chapter on benefits, the more people who are directly engaged in Student/Adult Partnerships the more the entirety of a school or district can be affected. There are a number of schools where this is happening today.
Several earlier examples mentioned on this website are be included here, including:
All of these are public schools, and all of them foster Student/Adult Partnerships. Each of them deeply infuse Meaningful Student Involvement throughout learning, teaching and leadership in their buildings.
In Boston, Massachusetts, the Mission Hill School was founded in 1997 as a pre-Kindergarten through grade 8 public school with approximately 200 racially and economically diverse students. Education thought leader Deborah Meier cofounded the school with parents, community leaders and others to provide a model to encourage other schools to innovate. Students throughout the city are chosen to attend Mission Hill based on a lottery and careful district selection.
Mission Hill features many elements of Meaningful Student Involvement. Students are considered partners throughout learning, teaching and leadership in the school, and have opportunities to co-lead the school’s curricula and culture, and help identify learning outcomes. With schoolwide learning themes, students have a lot of opportunities to share their perspectives on learning and education through planning, co-teaching, evaluation and decision-making. There are also educational advocacy opportunities woven into every students’ learning experience. To prove their learning, students develop and share class portfolios to share with others. Students are taught democratic habits of mind, and the school seeks to create community in order to nurture democracy. Using anti-racist and culturally relevant curriculum, the school is credited for reaching all students effectively. The school has been featured widely in media and throughout education circles for its academic success, commitment to continual innovation, and commitment to Dewey-influenced progressive education.
Students in Oakland, California, have the option of attending the nation’s first-ever student-created high school.
Alternatives in Action High School was originally founded as The Bay Area School of Enterprise in 2001, when a group of 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.
Today, the school is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
The school serves a student body featuring ninety percent students of color coming from diverse economic, English language and learner backgrounds. They have created more than fifty social action projects. One hundred percent of the school’s graduates are eligible for college, and ninety two percent of students are the first in their family to go on to college. (Alternatives in Action High School, n.d.)
In 1970, a group of students and their parents lobbied the Seattle School District to open an alternative high school that operated differently from the rest of the district. They particularly asked for a school without curriculum that centered on student interests, where teachers and students would share decision-making and activities could diverge from expectations without impeding regulations from the school board. After a multi-year fight, The Nova Project opened. Since then, the school has stayed small and focused.
Today, the mission of Nova is “to be a democratically governed learning community of broadly educated, diverse, creative and independent thinkers who work collaboratively and demonstrate a high degree of individual and social responsibility.” Students and adults continue to share decision-making, and Nova students have an equal voice with adults in the school in a number of areas, including curriculum, teacher hiring, the school budget, and more. Each student determines their own learning schedule, and is required to take a role in governing the school. Students at Nova learn through project-based approaches to teaching. Seminar-style courses, multi-level classes and independent study are hallmarks of the school, which targets under-resourced, under-achieving students as well as self-driven learners.
The school does not grade students, instead relying on a system of self-assessment. Students meet monthly with learning coordinators who track their progress. Students focus learning time on non-core topics primarily related to social justice. There is a weekly commitment to social activism that is supported in a variety of ways by adults throughout the school community. There are also extracurricular activities focused on a number of topics, including groups focused on student identities, “other wellness”, transitions, “unorthodox chess”, and a POC (People of Color) group. Students at Nova are regularly credited throughout Seattle for their contributions to the community and their rates of acceptance to higher education.
School or site councils: Students engaged in community-wide discussions about school policy. Students have full membership, and are empowered to go to meetings by the validation of their concerns and beliefs. Students are encouraged to push for what they need and want in their education.
Getting clear on who is involved in schools is not easy. We need to understand how decisions are made in schools. In order to affect schools, you can build your understanding of how decision-making in schools works.
The following positions represent as the typical “flow” of decision-making affecting students in public schools. Different people may exert different kinds of influence in every decision. Each person is not guaranteed a place “at the table” (most here often are excluded). Following is a summary of everyone whomightbe involved.
Each of these roles can include student voice; few currently involve students in meaningful ways. Following are descriptions of each role, and how Meaningful Student Involvement can happen with them.
Roles That Make Decisions In Schools
—All students everywhere, in every grade and every school, should experience Meaningful Student Involvement every day. Individual students determine whether they’re meaningfully involved. You are in ultimately in charge of your own education because you can actively choose whether or not you are going to actively participate and learn in schools.
—Younger and older students actively and passively influence other students’ decision-making. This can be meaningful if its done intentionally to make schools better.
—Many schools have active programs that draw out “traditional student leaders” by identifying certain skills or abilities students have. Despite having a range of abilities, these student leaders are mostly focused on activities that affect students only. However, a growing number of student leaders have an increasing amount of ability toaffect the whole education system. There are also “nontraditional” student leaders whose influence over their peers’ decision-making has not been acknowledged in school.
—Guiding children is one of the most important jobs of parents; this is especially true in schools. Parents can also passively or actively decision-making.
School Support Staff/Paraprofessionals/Adult Volunteers
—Secretaries, adult tutors, coaches, librarians, classroom assistants, and parent representatives may influence student decision-making. Paraprofessionals are people who are hired to work in schools to help students and teachers be successful.
—Everyday students are subjected to a range of decisions made by teachers about grading, curriculum, behavior management, and relationships with students. Teachers are also responsible for executing others’ decisions.
—Among the faculty at a school are teachers whose experience, knowledge, or influence gives them ability, authority, or position to make decisions for other teachers. These teachers may lead grade-level or curriculum areas, participate on special committees, or influence decision-making in other ways.
—Students often go to counselors to ask questions, seek advice, and talk to when they need a supportive adult in school. While they often guide student decision-making with classes or life after high school, counselors may also help students make decisions about life in general.
—Many schools principals need assistants to guide behavior management, budgeting, staff supervision, curriculum, and other areas. They affect students by doling out punishments and rewards; guiding student activities; and in other ways.
—The commonly acknowledged “leader” of a school is responsible for most areas of school operations, including many of the assistant principal roles listed above. They also publicly represent the school; mediate conflicts among students, staff, parents, and community members; and interact with district, state, and federal authorities.
—Officials on the district level administer programs, funds, rules and regulations given to them by their superiors. In some states districts are simply counties (Maryland) or large regions. New York City has more than 10 districts. District offices may also be known as a local education agency, or LEA.
—The leader of a given area or group of schools, superintendents are often the first elected official in the chain of decision-making affecting students. Sometimes they are appointed by the district school board or city mayor. They act as the figurehead and authority of all education-related issues within their physical area of authority.
District School Board
—These elected officials get recommendations from the public and the superintendent to deliver their range of decision-making authority. They set the budget and agenda of schools, assign students to schools, make rules and policies, set learning standards, and more.
—These are in-between organizations that may offer professional development, administrative guidance, or funding to districts and local schools. These offices have different names, including Educational Service Districts (Washington); BOCEs (New York); or Regional Service Centers (Texas).
—These officials are responsible for administering federal and state programs designed to meet the goals of schools. Also known as the state education agency or department of education. In several states this is the Office of Superintendent of Public Administration.
State Education Leader
—The state education leader may be elected or appointed; they may also work equally with the state school board and governor, or independently. They are responsible for guiding the implementation of the rules, regulations, laws, budgets, and programs of the state legislature; in some states, the governor; and the federal government. This person may be called the Chief Education Officer, or the Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI).
State School Board
—An elected group of officials that overseas all schools and ensures the state’s adherence to federal rules and regulations. Students can be meaningfully involved as full voting members elected by their peers are responsible for a full slate of activities, issues, and outcomes.
Governor/State Legislature/State Supreme Court
—The state-level officials who are responsible for setting state priorities and funding for education, as well as ensuring local, state, and federal compliance with education laws.
U.S. Secretary of Education
—The individual official responsible for setting and implementing the President’s education agenda. The leader of the U.S. Department of Education.
U.S. Department of Education
—The federal agency responsible for administering the budgets, rules, and regulations of the Secretary of Education and the Congress.
U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators
—Elected officials responsible for setting the President’s educational policy recommendations into motion, in addition to supplementing their states’ policy with additional funding.
U.S. Supreme Court Justices
—These individuals are appointed to make sure schools comply with the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
—The elected official responsible for setting national educational priorities affecting all public schools.
These are the people who are currently affected by student voice, and who should be partners through Meaningful Student Involvement. Essentially they are all potential partners to transform education. They could serve as barriers to Meaningful Student Involvement. But ultimately, they are all simply people who are trying to do jobs they either volunteered for, were hired for, or were appointed or elected to. This is different from students, who are compelled to attend schools because of the law. There is a middle ground between each of these decision-makers and students though, and that’s what Meaningful Student Involvement reveals.
NOVA opened as a public alternative school in Seattle, Washington, in 1970.
Their unique curriculum offers students the opportunity to learn through democratic school governance. Committees govern the school through consensus-based decision-making. Membership is voluntary and includes both staff and students, each of whom have an equal vote. Teachers serve on one or more committees, and model leadership skills.
Student participation in committees gives them a stake in their education, and encourages responsibility in their personal lives.
At Jackson Elementary School in Salt Lake City, Utah, fifth grade students advocated for a new school library for their school and won.
According to Barbara Lewis, author of The Kids Guide to Social Action, these young advocates have helped their elementary school reconstruct its library by researching, brainstorming, fundraising, giving speeches, lobbying, writing proposals and receiving local, state and federal support. Their efforts led to brand-new facilities and classes, flexible scheduling for increased library use, and a comprehensive technology system including a computer center and computers in every classroom. (Lewis, 1998)