Meaningful Student Involvement in 21st Century Community Learning Centers

For more than 20 years, the US Department of Education has been funding a program called the 21st Century Community Learning Centers across the country. Focused on supporting student learning during out-of-school time (OST), the program has a lot of students of color, low income students, and other learners who face disparities in learning, teaching and leadership throughout their educational experiences. This article is about the role of Meaningful Student Involvement in these programs.

This is the logo for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.
This is the logo for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers, or 21st CCLCs, are working in almost every state across the country to help students in high-poverty and low-performing schools get more academic enrichment. Focused primarily on providing a safe and supportive learning environments, the 21st CCLCs focus on STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math. 21st CCLC also help in other subject areas in schools, including language arts, social studies, heath and art, as well as other topics, too. All of this is intended to improve student learning,

One of the most ambitious aspects of some 21st CCLCs are their efforts to foster student-centered learning. Student-centered learning often includes student-driven interests, personalized learning, and other strategies that place students in the middle instead of educators. There are missed opportunities hiding in plain sight that can enhance 21st CCLCs though, and one of them is Meaningful Student Involvement.

Meaningful Student Involvement is the sustained systemic infusion of student voice throughout education in order to foster student engagement in school, communities, and democracy. Meaningful Student Involvement can be a key to successful 21st CCLCs. Since 2008, I have worked in dozens of schools across Washington state and beyond, including supporting the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the New York State Student Support Services Center as they implement their 21st CCLCs programs in the past. All of my work through SoundOut has focused on Meaningful Student Involvement.

In each of these programs, I have taught educators of all stripes different ways Meaningful Student Involvement can improve their programs. This includes…

  • Meaningful Student Involvement in learning and teaching
  • Meaningful Student Involvement in program design
  • Meaningful Student Involvement in program staffing
  • Meaningful Student Involvement in program evaluation, and
  • Meaningful Student Involvement in the climate of 21st CCLCs

Each of these has allowed educators in these programs to improve student-driven learning in many ways. For instance, actively fostering Meaningful Student Involvement can empower learners of all ages with the skills and knowledge they need to investigate, engineer, and implement solutions as they create new knowledge and learning for themselves and their peers. Implementing Meaningful Student Involvement to improve the climate of 21st CCLCs can look like embracing social-emotional learning through practical steps reflecting the values and perspectives of schools, families, and communities students belong to.

I have discovered that embracing Meaningful Student Involvement doesn’t always come easily to 21st CCLCs staff though. Despite their best intentions, it can be an uphill climb for educators who’ve never experienced positive, proactive Meaningful Student Involvement to do the same.

That’s why SoundOut provides a variety of tools and supports to scaffold educators’ learning to support Meaningful Student Involvement in 21st CCLCs. Through my workshops and keynote speeches, 21st CCLCs staff can find practical ways of understanding Meaningful Student Involvement, effective implementations of Meaningful Student Involvement in programming, and powerful ways to measure the impact and outcomes of Meaningful Student Involvement in 21st CCLCs.

Contact SoundOut today to discuss how to bring us to your area for a workshop on Meaningful Student Involvement in 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

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The Guide to Student Voice Advertisement
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Student Burnout and Student Voice

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravished K-12 schools across the United States and around the world. After months or years out of physical school buildings, students have been brought back into classroom learning. However, a new epidemic has emerged throughout schools, and it is best summarized as student burnout. This article is about the connections between student burnout and student voice.

Student burnout happens when learners of all ages have had enough. Consciously or unconsciously, they’ve surrendered their will to learn. In response, they have become apathetic about learning and disconnected from school. Student burnout can be obvious or subtle, intentional or accidental, incidental or sustained.

When students throw trash around bathrooms, fight on social media posts, run out of classrooms, or skip school, they are being obvious. However, missing assignments, staring out the window and answering questions with rote memorization instead of thoughtful replies can all be indications of student burnout, too.

At SoundOut, we’ve discovered there is an intersection between student burnout and student voice. Working with more than 500 schools globally over the last 20 years, we’ve found the ability of students to express themselves about learning and schools is key to retaining positive possibilities for education. When students have authentic opportunities to share their knowledge, ideas, opinions, and concerns about education, they stay engaged in learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools. When students feel compressed, repressed, or oppressed within schools, they disconnect from the teachers with the best intentions, the classes with the finest honed curriculums, and the most supportive learning environments to be crafted.

5 Steps to Fight Student Burnout

While we continue to move into this post-pandemic reality of educating students in highly compromised classrooms, we should center all of our work on engaging students by empowering authentic student voice. Here are some ways you can do that.

  1. Make space for student voice everyday »
  2. Build the power of students to share their voices »
  3. Network with other educators committed to fostering Meaningful Student Involvement in classrooms »
  4. Engage students with passion-oriented teaching methods »
  5. Consciously foster student voice in your classroom all the time »

If you see the potential and possibilities for student voice to combat student burnout but you’re not sure where to start, contact us today. SoundOut is excited to partner with K-12 educators and schools that are committed to Meaningful Student Involvement — find out why!

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SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum

This is the promotional flyer for the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum by Adam F.C. Fletcher.

The SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum is the only program written for educators to actually engage students as partners to transform our schools.

SoundOut can empower students to improve learning, teaching, and leadership better throughout K-12 schools today!

SoundOut founding director Adam F.C. Fletcher wrote and piloted this curriculum to teach middle and high school students how to change schools. Based on his work with more than 300 schools across the country, this program shows educators how to build student voice in their schools today.

Features

  • Eight unique modules
  • 200 hours of classroom instruction
  • 24 detailed, practical lesson plans
  • Designed in actual classes with real students
  • Shows students how to…
    • Research schools
    • Plan learning
    • Teach classes
    • Evaluate themselves and their teachers
    • Make systemic decisions, and;
    • Advocate for school improvement

Engaging, hands-on activities are punctuated with fun worksheets, and with a comprehensive teacher’s guide, there are no questions left unanswered. There are also planning guides, assessment tools, and more included.

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Indicators of Student Engagement

In more than 20 years of academic research on student engagement, scholars have constantly tried to identify what reflects student engagement. Some studies have focused on teachers’ reflections about student engagement, while others have fixated on supposedly objective perspectives on students’ time-on-task and other observable phenomenon.

When I became Washington state’s first-ever student engagement specialist in 2000, I conducted a three year action research project to identify and advocate for the active, intentional, and practical engagement of every learner throughout K-12 schools. Since then I have supported more than 2,000 schools in their efforts to foster, expand, and sustain student engagement.

These are Adam F.C. Fletcher's five indicators of student engagement for SoundOut.org.
These are Adam F.C. Fletcher’s five indicators of student engagement for SoundOut.org.

SoundOut’s Indicators of Student Engagement

Following are the the five main indicators of student engagement I have identified through my work with SoundOut and beyond.

  1. Academic engagement is repeatedly choosing connection with curriculum, learning, and assessment within schools. Frequently positioned as “book learning” or “classroom learning,” academic engagement is shown through formal, structured, and specific activities and demonstrated through similar outcomes;
  2. Emotional engagement happens through Social Emotional Learning in classrooms and beyond. Emotional engagement is demonstrated through increased emotional intelligence, or EQ, and isn’t simply attached to curriculum. Instead, EQ is reflected in the interplay between classroom, climate, community, and interpersonal / intra-personal exhibition;
  3. Social engagement is reflected in connections students make through peer-to-peer relationships as well as with younger and older students, teachers and administrators, student support staff, and the broader school community. Again reflecting intra-personal engagement, the social indicator of student engagement is a direct reflection of culture and climate throughout the school environment;
  4. Cultural engagement is demonstrated through the continuous connections a student makes to language, history, dance, clothing, songs, and other types of cultural learning experiences within schools and beyond. Its obvious display isn’t the only way cultural engagement happens; rather, it is through stated, obvious, and demonstrable connectivity that students make their engagement known;
  5. Personal engagement is shown through students’ repeated connections to what matters most within themselves and throughout the world around them; and many other forms of student engagement. This is a largely interpersonal indicator, apparent only in the focuses of learners as they demonstrate interest, show consistency, and practice any given area of personal engagement.

All of these types of engagement happen within schools right now. However, with the exception of academic engagement, they are often treated as coincidental to the schooling experience. Research and practice reflected in literature from the last 20 years shows that quite the contrary, these indicators of engagement are essential for learner success in many ways.

With the breadth of student engagement clearly understood, it becomes easier to understand the rampant reality of student disengagement in schools today. This is what makes it essential to radically rethink how students are engaged throughout the education system.

What do you think of these indicators? I would love to read your thoughts and ideas, so share them in the comments. Interested in learning more? See the links below or contact SoundOut right now!

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SoundOut School Board Training

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.

Outcomes

Workshop outcomes include participants…

  • Learning what student voice is, what it does, who it is for and how it happens;
  • Exploring roles for students on school boards, including activities, topics and outcomes that are appropriate for them, and;
  • Understanding how students are engaged on boards, including recruitment, training, maintaining and evaluating their roles.

For more information including fees and scheduling, contact SoundOut today!

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How to Sound Out: Making School Meaningful

For more than 20 years, SoundOut has been supporting Meaningful Student Involvement. But what makes school meaningful for students? After working with thousands of learners in more than 500 K-12 schools across the U.S., Canada and beyond, we have found that there are four steps every school can take.

To make school meaningful, every student should learn about learning, learn about schooling, learn about meaning, and learn about voice.
To make school meaningful, every student should learn about learning, learn about schooling, learn about meaning, and learn about voice.

To make school meaningful for every learner, everywhere, all the time, students should do these steps. Every student should…

  • Learn about Learning
  • Learn about Schooling
  • Learn about Meaning
  • Learn about Voice

Following is an exploration of each step for how to sound out by making school meaningful for all learners.

Learn about Learning

Learning is treated like a puzzle in schools today, where educators cryptically choose is learned, how its taught, why its important, where learning happens, and what the outcomes should be. However, through Meaningful Student Involvement students deliberately learn what learning is and why it matters; how learning happens and how they learn best; they choose when and where learning happens; and students themselves select who can teach them and what they want to learn.

Instead of acting as a sage-on-the-stage, teachers become learning facilitators and coaches whose mission is to help infuse the love of education into the hearts and minds of all learners. In places where Meaningful Student Involvement happens, starting at the earliest ages, students become empowered, engaged co-facilitators for themselves and their peers, interacting across grade levels and beyond individual topics to experience entwined learning across curricular areas in order to have rich, holistic learning experiences. Constructivist approaches ensure appropriate learning occurs, while jointly identified learning goals encourage student ownership and student agency throughout school. Learning about learning is the first step toward Meaningful Student Involvement for all learners, everywhere, all the time.

Learn about Schooling

Almost every student goes through schools without understanding what they are part of, why it matters, and how it operates. Instead, they go through the education system with the expectation that at some point they’ll be finished. Rather than being the passive recipients of adult-driven decision-making, all students of all abilities in all grade levels can become active, engaged, and equitable partners with educators and parents throughout the entire educative process. Starting in kindergarten and extending through to graduation, learning about schooling includes understanding the structure of the education system; the practices throughout the entire educational journey; the outcomes of schools; and the surrounding factors that make schooling a necessary and productive part of everyone’s learning in life. Learning about schooling is the second step towards engaging all students everywhere through Meaningful Student Involvement.

Learn about Meaning

Making meaning in our lives, our learning, and schooling should be the core of every students’ experience in K-12 education. As students learn about their attitudes and abilities, they should come to understand the meaning of what they’re acquiring starting in kindergarten, and why it matters all the way through graduation. When they understand why schooling matters for themselves, students can do almost anything necessary in order to learn. This is completely opposite from how many schools address meaningfulness today; instead, they act as if students need to be able to do anything demanded of them without any sense of purpose or meaning. SoundOut’s approach to Meaningful Student Involvement is contingent on students finding the meaning of their schooling experience, no matter what age or ability they have. This is the third step.

Learn about Voice

The last step in Meaningful Student Involvement happens when students learn about student voice; that is, any expression of any student about anything related to learning, schools, and education. When students learn what student voice is, how student voice is shared, why student voice matters, and who student voice is shared by and for, students find the deepest possible meaning and purpose for schooling. This can allow students to be effective and equitable partners throughout the education system, from the smallest classroom lesson to the largest hallway traffic to the most important school board meeting. Most importantly though, it can also allow them to be active agents of change in the systems that affects them most, including education, community, and democracy. That’s the goal of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Conclusion

As this article shows and our experience attests to, its entirely feasible for every student of any ability level in every grade to experience Meaningful Student Involvement every single day. There is a lot of work involved in this; however, this is what schools should be for: ensuring the meaningfulness of every student’s life every single day in every single way possible.

To find out how SoundOut can help you make school meaningful for every learner, contact us now »

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Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook by Adam Fletcher http://amzn.to/2xL3obn

2021-22 SoundOut Workshops

Our workshops…

  • Facilitate learning that transforms learning, teaching and leadership throughout education. Our learning opportunities are highly interactive, engaging, and pragmatic;
  • Increase organizational capacity to build meaningful learning and cultivate the strategic leadership and holistic engagement of students throughout schools;
  • Bring experience to life for educators, parents and others by sharing powerful stories, meaningful lessons, and engaging presentations designed to fit your goals;
  • Build skills and knowledge for students, educators, and communities about the impact of Meaningful Student Involvement, student voice, student engagement and more!

Read on for details or contact us to learn more.

SoundOut Workshops

1: How To Re-Engage In Your Job

Description: Personalize your job, improve your school’s culture, and build new skills and knowledge within yourself with our dynamic, engaging workshop. Participants re-engage with their job, the purpose of education, and the point of democracy.

2: How To Re-Engage Students

Description: Examine the basics, facts and best practices nationwide for getting students engaged and excited to be in schools. Participants in this workshop learn powerful concepts, explore substantial stories, and get unique tools.

3: How To Meaningfully Involve Students

Description: Meaningful Student Involvement relies on intentional relationships developed with power, trust and respect. Participants explore possibilities and create sustainable outcomes for students as learning partners.

4: Nontraditional Student Leadership

Description: Engage all students as leaders with effective, exciting and realistic activities and ideas. Participants in this workshop research, plan next steps, and more with powerful tools, deep learning, and significant opportunities to challenge themselves and grow their classrooms.

Contact us to learn more!

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Stop White Supremacy in Student Voice

“NO RACISM ALLOWED,” announced a loud banner across the school’s entrance. I’d come this high school in Michigan to train the new SoundOut Student Equity Team, and was greeted by a handful of students.

Seattle students at the SoundOut Summer Camp
A group of high school students in a SoundOut training.

As we walked through the hallways on a winter day in 2018, I listed to stories from the students about their work to challenge white supremacy in the education system. It was an alternative high school for historically disengaged learners in a mid-sized urban school districts. The students led training for their peers and teachers, and the building was known for being progressive. It was an inspiring experience.

During our workshop focused on Meaningful Student Involvement, the students talked openly about white supremacy, white fragility, willful ignorance, whitesplaining and all bias, especially discrimination and hatred against Black people, American Indians, and other people of color. All sophomores and juniors, they shared that in their careers as students they’d experienced these realities directly as racist slurs, white supremacist curriculum, the school-to-prison pipeline and other hate-filled, explicitly discriminatory activities in schools. However, they also said that white supremacy poisoned their experiences from their youngest years through micro-aggressions and other toxic behaviors by teachers, principals and other students, including being facetious, making light, being condescending, gaslighting and otherwise demeaning, belittling, or insulting Black people, American Indians, and other people of color.


White Supremacy in Student Voice

Do your student voice activities reflect these traits? These traits are damaging to both students of color and white students. They reflect predominant white culture, and should be addressed and dismantled through Meaningful Student Involvement.

  • Perfectionism, instead of a culture of appreciation
  • Sense of Urgency, instead of realistic workplans and outcomes
  • Defensiveness, instead of understanding that school cannot in and of itself facilitate or prevent abuse
  • Quantity Over Quality, instead of fostering processes and quality goals in your planning
  • Worship of the Written Word, instead of accepting that there are many ways to get to the same goal
  • Paternalism or Adultism, instead of making sure that all students know and understand who makes what decisions in the class, program, school and education system
  • Either/Or Thinking, instead of noticing when students use either/or language and pushing to come up with more than two alternatives
  • Power Hoarding, instead of including power sharing in your class, program, school and education system’s values statement
  • Fear of Open Conflict, instead of handling conflict before conflict happens and distinguishing between being polite and raising hard issues
  • Individualism, instead of honoring students based on their ability to work as part of a team to accomplish shared goals
  • Progress is Bigger, More, instead of fostering deep impact, meaningful processes, and holistic outcomes of all involved
  • Objectivity, instead of realizing that every student has their own world view and that every student’s world view affects the way they understand things
  • Right to Comfort, instead of understanding that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning

Adapted from Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001


The reason I was there was to learn with them about how Meaningful Student Involvement has no room for racism. Ultimately, we resolved that white supremacy should be canceled from every student voice activity of any kind. These students were determined to immediately and completely address all white supremacy in their schools, whether from other students expressing internalized racism, or from educators who were resistant or ignorant of their own indiscretions and hatred for students of color. They were determined to make their school stop being racist.

Unfortunately, in my experience working with hundreds of schools nationwide, this isn’t the case across the United States. A lot of well-meaning but poorly informed student voice activities inadvertently reflect an overwhelming trend towards white supremacy, including featuring white student voice as representative of all student voice; homogenizing student leadership and acting as if small elite groups of designated student leaders can represent large swaths of the student body effectively, and otherwise diminishing the capacity, power and possibilities of African American, Latino/a and Hispanic, American Indian and other students of color to share their voices in positive ways throughout the education system in order to affect curriculum, learning, teaching and leadership.

Worse still, most of the current practices in student voice clearly and wholly minimize and undermine the tremendous ways that students can be meaningfully involved in the entire functioning of schools, including the teaching of classes; research of educational practices; planning curriculum, calendars and policies; evaluation of learning, teaching and climates; decision-making at all levels; and advocacy for what students themselves believe in.

SoundOut Student Voice Team at Cleveland High School, Seattle WA
Students at the SoundOut Student Voice Summer Camp in Seattle, Washington.

The potential of students becoming substantively involved in determining the course of their own learning, let alone leading the entire education system, is regularly dismissed by educators who claim the lack of students’ abilities, skills and knowledge is the undoing of Meaningful Student Involvement. However, more than twenty years of research clearly shows otherwise.

I am beginning to understand that these concerns are merely convenient cloaks for “keeping kids in their place.” By denying their roles, adults everywhere are working hard to ensure the status quo is maintained. Today, however, we know this is merely the defense of white supremacy everywhere. In order to confront our collective racism, white supremacy, willful ignorance, and ANY bias against students of color, every school with every grade everywhere across the country must shift to Meaningful Student Involvement immediately.

Spaces for Student Voice
These are the spaces where student voice should be engaged throughout education.

Fostering the characteristics of Meaningful Student Involvement is the first step in this process. Moving towards re-conceptualizing the roles of students throughout the education system is further down the line. Ultimately, we must establish the role of the Public Student, whose sole purpose is to actualize the potential of democratic society be becoming an educated, engaged member of the world around them through learning, teaching and leadership.

Are you ready to stop white supremacy in education? The first step is to stop white supremacy in student voice. What are you going to do next? Please share you thoughts in the comments below.


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2020-2021 SoundOut Workshops

SoundOut facilitates learning activities in K-12 schools across the United States and Canada! During the 2020-2021 school year, we’re providing highly interactive, action-oriented online workshops focusing on…

MEANINGFUL STUDENT INVOLVEMENT

  • Engaging ALL Students in Meaningful Ways
  • Students as Partners in School Improvement
  • Infusing Meaningful Student Involvement throughout Education
  • Ending White Supremacy in Student Involvement

STUDENT VOICE

  • How To Engage Student Voice in Schools
  • Empowering Student Identity
  • Building School Leadership through Student Voice
  • Moving from Student Voice to Meaningful Student Involvement

Want to learn more? Call our office at (360) 489-9680 or contact us.

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Students Stopping COVID-19

Students can help schools face the challenge of COVID-19.

As educators and leaders navigate COVID-19 (coronavirus), SoundOut encourages schools to foster student/adult partnerships to address the challenges facing schools right now. 

With that in mind, we call on classroom teachers, building leaders, district officials and others to engage the power of students to address the coronavirus. 

Students can…

  • Partner: Partner with educators to make decisions affecting students
  • Communicate: Make posters, videos and more to promote healthy actions
  • Inform: Inform peers with positive action and messages through social media
  • Build: Co-create webpages about COVID-19 for schools and districts
  • Research: Students can research quality resources for schools to learn more

Educators can…

  1. Take Action: Have create learning projects focused on preparing for the spread of coronavirus.
  2. Share Examples: Share student-created projects including posters, videos, webpages and more that students create in partnership with teachers, school leaders and communities in addressing coronavirus.
  3. Keep Going: Keep students active creating empowering messages and helping educators and administrators prepare for COVID-19, and keep sharing.

Working with adults as partners, students can help schools overcome the challenge of COVID-19. Have students helped your school so far? Share your examples in the comment section below!

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