Student trainers can be effective trainersfor other students and/or adults. For instance, students can lead trainings around a special curriculum, such as interpersonal violence or environmental issues. On Vashon Island, Washington, students from StudentLink, the local alternative high school facilitated a service learning training event for teachers and youth workers from their community. Over two days student trainers taught about the basics of service learning, implementing a project, and assessing youth voice.
Students Teaching Teachers About Service Learning
For two consecutive Thursdays in February, students from the Vashon Island Youth Council conducted teacher in-service trainings.
The young people, ages 12-18, educated teachers, school administrators, city officials and other community members about service learning for in two three-hour sessions.
“The students were organized, knowledgeable and energetic in their presentations,” remarked Nasue Nishida, Learn and Serve Program Specialist at the State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “They presented service learning in an entirely new way for many experienced and new teachers and interested community participants.”
The students taught participants from all levels of service learning knowledge and experience, from service learning “rookies” through the most seasoned practitioners.
“Most workshops can’t meet the needs of everyone there. These students did that, engaging everyone in lively dialogue, initiative activities, small group facilitation, brainstorming and action planning,” said Nishida.
When asked whether she’ll promote this method, Nishida responded “Yes, definitely. I think that students in all areas, rural and urban, wealthy and lowincome, have worthy experiences to share with adults, and their teachers. We will promote this heavily in the future.”(Fletcher, 2001)
Students participating in principal hiring, advocating for school improvement and taking action to enrich and enliven student engagement throughout their school during a regular course in school experience Meaningful Student Involvement.
During the 2007-08 school year students at the Black Hills High School in Tumwater, Washington, participated in the hiring of their future principal. This is an example of students as school planners.
Meeting after school, students were able to tell district hiring officials exactly what they wanted in their future building leader. The students respectfully and deliberately pressed the officials about standardized tests, student-principal interactions, and community building within their school. Taking root in the school’s Student Engagement Team, the students had been preparing for the meeting for several months. In addition to participating in the hiring process, participants, who are self-selected, have conducted building-wide surveys and testified before the Education Committee of the Washington State House of Representatives.
They continually encourage educators to move to working with students instead of for them. This level of participation in planning encourages students to see ahead of their own time in schools. Members of the Student Engagement Team have planned schoolwide forums for the 2008-09 school year, and their advisor has stated her commitment to maintaining membership open to all students at the school. Towards the end of the school year final candidates for the principal position at the school had the opportunity to answer students’ questions directly, and when they were interviewed the panel included a student from the Team.
Speaking of the Team, Bob Kuehl, the Human Resource director of the Tumwater School District, said of the Student Engagement Team,
“They are very insightful of the needs of a school from a student’s perspective and they are very candid about their opinions and thoughts… They have a lot of strong feelings that need to be heard and used.”
This type of commitment is exactly what Meaningful Student Involvement can—and should—foster among all partners throughout a school. (Barton, 2008)
Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Washington, offers a course called Practicum in Community Involvement (PICI) that engages students in developing their own year-long learning project. Students must incorporate certain elements into their project, including research, action and reflection, and identify a community mentor to guide them in their learning. Students’ responses to their experiences grow increasingly sophisticated and powerful, with students regularly exclaiming, “This is the only reason I made it through my senior year.” (Fletcher, 2005b)
In Cheney, Washington, Cheney Elementary School hosted classroom-based project engaged in first-grade students in rewriting curriculum. Their teachers believed that if students helped to create the curriculum, the class dialogue about this process would shed light on how to make learning experiences more cohesive and purposeful. The teachers began by teaching students a unit, and then had students recreate the lesson plan. (Nelson & Fredrick, 1994)
A national movement towards rallying similar organizations supporting similar young people in schools and during out-of-school time led ESD 113 to convene a similar coalition. Without a concise action plan or engaging facilitator, the ESD was concerned their coalition may not succeed. Searching for a premier leader with similar experience, the ESD called on SoundOut to inform and guide this effort.
Starting in spring 2012, SoundOut staff provided leadership to the Pacific Mountain Regional Youth Alliance through a contract with Educational Service District 113 in Tumwater, Washington. We consulted a planning team including representatives from five organizations focused on developing a collective impact strategy to affect change in southwest Washington. We also facilitated Alliance gatherings for up to 125 participants, as well as planning team meetings.
The Alliance, including Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Thurston, and the northern part of Pacific Counties, is planning, convening, and supporting youth agencies, individuals, and other partnering organizations as they engage, collaborate and activate the advancement of culturally relevant family and community roles for student success from early childhood through college. Focused on establishing a collective impact model, the Alliance convenes meetings, shares resources, and holds other events on the regional and county levels.
SoundOut helped the Alliance develop short- and long-term strategic plans, provided event facilitation for up to 125 people as well as small leadership team meetings with several organizational representatives, and consulted the ESD on future activities.
Results included a sustainable long-term action plan for the Alliance; new countywide coalitions affecting up to 250,000 youth throughout the region; and increased determination and motivation among participants into the future.
For the 2011-12 school year, Educational Service District 123 in Pasco, Washington contracted with SoundOut to provide a year-long series of trainings focused on integrating Meaningful Student Involvement into 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs.
More than 40 participants attended almost 24 hours of professional development throughout the year. Topics covered included student-adult partnerships, the Cycle of Engagement, SoundOut’s Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement, and more.
SoundOut staff also introduced a new component to each of the training events focused on personal engagement in schools, and how each individual participants’ perception of schools affects how they interact with learners. Each participant made plans for action, and were provided technical assistance by myself throughout the year.
In the 2012-13 school year, SoundOut trainers provided 20+ hours of professional development for 20 sites from this program to facilitate the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum. Participants learned to facilitate learning and projects focused on Meaningful Student Involvement for participants, and used the curriculum at their discretion.
Educational Opportunity Center, Clarkston, Washington
New Horizons Alternative High School, Pasco, Washington
Prosser Falls Alternative High School, Prosser, Washington
River’s Edge Alternative High School, Richland Washington
John Sager Middle School & Meadowbrook Intermediate School, College Place, Washington
Dayton Elementary School & Dayton Middle School, Dayton, Washington
Finley Middle School, Finley, Washington
Kiona-Benton Middle School, Benton City, Washington
Robert L. Olds Junior High School, Connell, Washington
The GEAR UP program fosters college awareness and readiness for low-income middle and high school students by providing a variety of programs targeted to educators. The University of Washington state GEAR UP program serves 5,700 students in 36 schools and 29 school districts throughout Washington state. From 2005 to 2007, the GEAR UP Program partnered with SoundOut to help improve their outcomes.
The state’s major GEAR UP program was faced with normalized student disengagement among their target participants, including low-income, students of color, and migrant/bilingual students. They needed to increase facilitator effectiveness, and decided that modeling and intensive professional development were the best avenues for action.
The University of Washington State GEAR UP program contracted with SoundOut from 2005 to 2007 to facilitate several training activities for almost 300 middle and high school students. In 2007, SoundOut staff facilitated a week-long professional development retreat for local coordinators focused on Meaningful Student Involvement.
SoundOut Founding Director Adam Fletcher and trainer Scott LeDuc facilitated a 36-hour intensive program designed to increase program efficacy and outcomes. Participants reported their work would be transformed, their approaches would refocus on student engagement, and that they had the resources they needed to take strategic steps.
“Adam works tirelessly to create environments and cultures where youth develop and wield the knowledge and power to positively impact not only their lives but also society. He is one of the most knowledgeable, innovative, and effective facilitators, writers, educators, and thinkers in the field. Adam brings theory and reality together in praxis that reveals how utopic visions can become a reality.” – Christin Chopra, former Manager, University of Washington GEAR UP
Between 2004 to 2007, SoundOut developed, launched, and directed the Seattle Student Equity Project as a partnership of SoundOut and the Seattle Public Schools Office of Equity and Race Relations. Adam Fletcher worked with five high schools in Seattle to create, develop, and support Student Equity Teams focused on Meaningful Student Involvement and race relations in high schools across the city.
The Seattle Student Equity Project focused on three themes:
Equity and Race Relations Bringing communities together through open dialogue and honest reflection around what is meant by racism and the impact is has on our society and more specifically, students.
Student Voice Engaging the perspectives and actions of young people in educational activities that partner students with adults to improve schools.
Service Learning Combining powerful opportunities to help others with substantial classroom learning goals.
Every Student Equity Team was invited to participate in a program that includes four components:
Ongoing Training for students and adults focused on each project theme in order to increase the capacity through knowledge-sharing and skill-building;
Student-Led Evaluations of student perspectives about equity and race relations in Seattle Public Schools;
Service Learning Projects that are designed, implemented, and evaluated by students in response to student-led evaluations, and;
Cross-School Collaborations through monthly meetings and training that encourage students to share experiences and brainstorm responses.
Schools involved included West Seattle High, Roosevelt High, Cleveland High, Franklin High and NOVA Project.
SoundOut partnered with the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Title V and Innovative Programs to facilitate the Changing SPACES (Students Partnering to Advocate for Change in Environments in Schools) in 2006.
Working with staff from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Title V and Innovative Programs, SoundOut coordinated and facilitated a statewide project for 10 high schools focused on involving students in creating environments in schools that engage students.
Activities focused on secluded retreats to provide unfettered professional development for educators and administrators, training for students, and evaluations of school projects.
Schools recognized as “partners” completed all activities in the project.
From 2003-06, SoundOut partnered with Secondary Academy for Success in Bothell, Washington, to integrate students into their school improvement planning process.
SoundOut provided training to nontraditional student leaders at this alternative high school in suburban Seattle. After facilitating a school-wide forum for 150 students on school improvement in Spring 2003, students have joined committees and made reports to the school board on how they think schools should change.
Students Speak Out: How One School Opens the Doors to Meaningful Student Involvement
RESULTS ARE IN! Students have a definite vision of what schools should be like. Their visions include: Students as equals. Interactive, integrated classes. Self-assessment and self-driven learning. Safe, comfortable learning spaces. Modern, diverse, and relevant textbooks. As one student said, “Just the fact that everyone in the whole room agrees on what a school should be like, but there isn’t one like that here.”
Throughout the spring of 2004, over 100 students in a public alternative high school in suburban Seattle partnered with teachers and students from other area high schools to create a plan for meaningful student involvement in their school.
The first step in the Secondary Academy for Success (SAS) plan was a program that included a series of skill-building and planning workshops for a self-selected group of students who were interested in changing their school. These students formed the nucleus of the Student Leadership Team at SAS.
A COURSE OF ACTION and several objectives for the Student Leadership Team were laid out. They focused on creating an all-day, student-facilitated forum where students could discuss the successes and challenges in their learning experiences.
Goals for the forum included:
students becoming central contributors to the school improvement process at SAS
students experiencing meaningful involvement as both facilitators and participants
and students developing a concrete course of action for school change, culminating in a student presentation to school staff.
As one adult facilitator commented, the purpose of this forum was for “Students actually changing schools. And.. students and teachers… work[ing] together to make that real.” Another said, “We’re going to talk about ‘how you learn best. We want to know what students think is important to learn. And the next part of that is how you want to learn.”
The students and adults involved believed that this route would provide a vital accountability loop to students about the outcomes of their contributions, and validate student voice.
The initial steps of the process included training a group of ten to twelve students as student forum facilitators. The students participated in teambuilding, self-awareness, and critical thinking activities in preparation for their roles as facilitators at the whole-school forum. During these sessions students wrote the discussion questions and sampled a variety of activities in a one-day training event.
DOZENS OF STUDENTS and teachers are holding hands in the middle of the old cafeteria. On “GO!” they start twisting and contorting like a giant circular caterpillar, sending a pair of hula hoops over their bodies and around their group.
The forum was a success. The Student Leadership Team worked with teachers to lead discussions with 70 other students in small groups. After participating in icebreakers and an activity about styles of communication, students discussed what they thought were challenges in schools, and what they thought needed to change. Throughout the day there were several initiative exercises and breaks. When students were done brainstorming, their small groups created visuals that detailed their beliefs about “The Perfect School.” Suggestions came in many forms, including these thoughts from students:
“We think the perfect school would be a school where the teachers are not as much teachers as they are students, and everybody works in a group together on the same projects. And the teachers and students would have respect for each other.
“Students can pursue their learning in or outside of the school, in formal course work or independent studies. In each case the student writes a contract with a stated goal of learning.”
“There are no grades. All assessment is merit driven.
“The governance of the schools is handled through your sub-communities, where anyone, including students can join and participate.”
“More academic classes… some kids were really interested in like life skills and knowledge and how to socialize and stuff like Latin and that kind of stuff.”
“How about just learning to get along with people.”
“I want to learn history by like traveling…not traveling, but like going on field trips. Like going places – museums and stuff. Instead of like learning from a book. I don’t want to learn from a book. I want to actually do things.”
One Student Leadership Team member noted, “These [students] really want a place that they can go that is something that they like. A school where they can learn what they want to learn and that they can be comfortable… and be equal with everyone.”
A teacher remarked, “I think the most exciting thing in our group is that the kids are starting to dream. It started really tiny like changing the attendance policy or not getting in trouble if they have three unexcused absences. And now all of a sudden the box is opening a lot more and the positive list is starting to develop.”
After the forum, the Student Leadership Team compiled notes from the Forum into a written report that was presented to the entire student body in classroom meetings, and to the local board of education. Every student in the school had the opportunity to respond to the findings and to the Forum overall. Reflecting on that process, one Student Leadership Team member said, “It is interesting how much alike different people are as far as their opinions on school are.”
The report also included recommendations on actions that the school can take, and ways to create an environment that supports meaningful student involvement at SAS.
ULTIMATELY, this Forum is just the tip of an iceberg. As one adult at the Forum reflected afterwards,
“These [students] have never ever talked about school like this before in their lives. And it freaks [them] out. So of course they are going to run off, because they don’t even know if adults are really listening. They don’t even know if what they are saying matters. So what needs to happen now is that school needs show them that ‘yes, it matters. We are listening.’”
Research has proven that in order for students to become actual partners in school reform efforts, meaningful student involvement must be a sustainable and deliberate component in school change processes. Through the Forum and Student Leadership, SAS has begun that transformation and created a foundation for a successful – and meaningful – future for all students.