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. Last week I had a chance to visit Madison, Wisconsin, where they are doing exactly that.
Over 24 hours in two days, I sat with more than 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.
I 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, I 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, I had the opportunity to learn 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?
I also work directly with district staff focused on youth engagement. We had a communitywide 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. I was 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.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity that I had there! It’s been a fascinating 20 years of doing this work, and Madison is help me to begin to envision the future that’s a head for me as meaningful student involvement continues to grow.