For more than 100 years, schools have wrestled with truancy. Anytime students are intentionally late for class, late for school, or skipping class, they are deemed truant by schools. There are a lot of rules and regulations in schools governing truancy. Most schools and school districts use punishments to enforce those rules and regulations. Meaningful Student Involvement can play an important role in overcoming the challenges truancy presents in learning, teaching and leadership in K-12 schools.
Students can become partners in addressing truancy in a lot of ways. With adults as allies, they can learn a great deal about why truancy happens, what it does and means, how it affects them and their schools, and why it matters so much. In schools and district offices across the nation, students and adults are working together to transform truancy through research, evaluation, planning and decision-making.
BOSTON: Working with district administration and their superintendent, the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) investigated why students do not stay in school and became disengaged. BSAC created a survey, interviewed students, collected data and presented their findings to the School Committee. BSAC has combined their solutions with those of the dropout rate research and created a document that is still alive.
The question of dropping out and Meaningful Student Involvement is challenging. Research collected by a variety of researchers shows that students who leave school early often want to be meaningfully involved in schools. They frequently attribute dropping out to not feeling heard or engaged in their learning, by teachers or from education leadership.
Students face a variety of realities within schools. With large percentages of students graduating on-time, many educators lose focus on students who are likely to leave schools early. Sometimes, systematic discrimination and institutional racism conspire to pushout these students. This happens through harsh punishments, punitive grading and uncommitted student support. Educators trying to control students’ behavior through punishments take away student ownership of their own education, which affects every other part of their schooling and beyond into their out-of-school experiences, too. Instead of pushing out students and causing them to dropout, educators can empower students through Meaningful Student Involvement in order to foster student autonomy, increase their sense of competence, and building their capacity to be in community with others. Negative consequences, timeouts, and punishment just make bad behavior worse
Dropouts can also feed into the school-to-prison pipeline. Its more important for schools to focus on what causes students to dropout than it is to focus on dropping out.
There are challenges to using strategies for Meaningful Student Involvement to meet address dropping out. The dilemma is that a lot of research on student voice is qualitative. With student voice being embedded in a lot of methods, approaches and pedagogies, its effects haven’t been thoroughly analyzed for direct causation. The quantitative, data-driven, longitudinal outcomes of student voice simply haven’t been proven. Instead, its treated as having corollary effects on measurable challenges like dropping out. Research doesn’t really show that student voice directly impacts the dropout rate.
As more schools become committed to student voice, it becomes more important for educators to stay ethically grounded in their efforts. That means deliberately engaging students who aren’t normally engaged in class with dynamic, powerful strategies, and those include Meaningful Student Involvement. Researchers can continue their efforts to measure the significance of these approaches in a variety of ways, including establishing the causative effects of student voice, student engagement, and Meaningful Student Involvement.
Democracy is at the heart of Meaningful Student Involvement. The goal of public schools should always focus on the primary role of anyone in society, which is that of citizen. First and foremost, if you live in a society and contribute to it, you are a citizen of that society, whether that is acknowledged or not.
Students do not have to wait until they are 18 to become citizens, and people from other countries do not have to wait until the government acknowledges their citizenship. Instead, everyone who contributes is a citizen right now, no matter who acknowledges that.
As a citizen, everyone should be able to participate as fully as they can with as few obstacles as possible. Student voice is one avenue for participation.
When they enter the door to schools, students are participating as citizens in society. Their purpose in schools is more than to simply become adults or workers. Instead, it is what W.E.B. DuBois challenged when he wrote, “The ideals of education, whether men [sic] are taught to teach or plow, to weave or to write, must not be allowed to sink into sordid utilitarianism. Education must keep broad ideals before it, and never forget that it is dealing with Souls and not with Dollars.”
Meaningful Student Involvement narrows the broad ideals of student voice and targets students on democracy building in education. Some of the democratic purposes of education include:
Discovering—Exploring one’s own abilities and desires, and determining what their abilities are to fulfill their desires.
Learning—Deliberately setting about expanding, critiquing and transforming one’s abilities to fulfill their desires according to their own discovery and assessment.
Belonging—Joining a larger community of learners, students have powerful opportunities to self-identify who they are, who they aren’t and how they fit into the society they are part of.
Purpose—Through discovery and learning, students can also identify what they stand for and what they stand against, what matters to them and what doesn’t, and so forth.
There are many other purposes of education in general, but when it comes to democracy its vital to recognize the powerful, positive potential of Meaningful Student Involvement in schools.
Social and emotional intelligence is the way we understand how we feel and act, and how others feel and act. It can be distinctly obvious in Meaningful Student Involvement.
What It Is
Some people are more able to understand their own feelings and others’ feelings and use that understanding for good. These skills and abilities can be nurtured and increased, and can affect the experiences of students in schools greatly. Meaningful Student Involvement embraces and can maximize social and emotional intelligence by providing enhancing, enriching experiences for students and adults to work together in empathetic, compassionate ways.
What It Does
When students and adults use their social and emotional intelligence throughout the education system, Student/Adult Partnerships are obvious to outside observers. Respect and safety in schools become just as important as literacy and critical thinking skills anywhere and everywhere, including learning, teaching and leadership. When students feel both physical and emotional safety, school climates become absent of adultism, other discrimination, harassment and exclusion.
How It Happens
Social and emotional intelligence can be innate and nurtured among students of all ages, as well as adults throughout education. Some activities do that better than others, including:
Active teaching of social-emotional skills
Attention to creating positive relationships
Bullying prevention and intervention
Overt focus on understanding and appreciating differences
Nutrition is a bedrock of academic achievement, behavior and school climate. Whether apparent in school cafeteria selections, vending machines and other privately sold foods, or candy shared throughout the school day. Meaningful Student Involvement can be a key to transforming school nutrition.
What It Is
School nutrition is meant to provide proper nutrition for students to support the growth, development and learning of students in schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, schools have a huge impact of student health. Because of their role in society and exposure in schools, students can learn healthy eating and receive healthy foods from schools like nowhere else. Nutritious, appealing foods and drinks should be provided in school cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars, school stores, and other places in schools that offer food and beverages to students. Nutrition education should also be part of a comprehensive school health education curriculum, and nutrition staff should be part of every school, district and state coordinated school health approach.
Opportunities for Meaningful Student Involvement
As students become more accustomed to personalized learning, teaching and leadership throughout schools, they want more relevant food choices to support their experiences in schools. School nutrition has to be as engaging as classroom education. While society is embracing greater health in nutrition, schools are responsible for doing the same. Meaningful Student Involvement can facilitate this. There are examples of this work happening around the world.
BOSTON: The Boston Student Advisory Council met regularly and advised a group over the course of a year with representatives from Boston Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services to discuss issues related to school food and vending machines. Students advised a group of doctors working with the Nutrition Group on how to create healthy snacks that students will actually eat.
PENNSYLVANIA: Student involvement in wellness goals was promoted by having them work with local education agencies to develop Local Wellness Policies. Participating in the research, evaluation and re-design of school nutrition policies, student engagement was shown to increase, as did student acceptance in an array of health-related areas. Research found this approach may have promise in the area of obesity prevention. (Jomaa, L. H., E. McDonnell, et al. (2010) “Student Involvement in Wellness Policies: A Study of Pennsylvania Local Education Agencies,” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 42(6): 372-379)