By Margaret Zheng
As students, we are powerful. Don’t believe me? Then behold these active, insistent youth, who worked hard to effect change and, at least to some degree, succeeded:
Last school year, student journalists at Pittsburgh High School in Kansas published an article exposing their new principal’s fraudulent resume and utter lack of credentials. A few days later, the principal resigned.
In 2015, a coalition of Asian and Pacific Islander students in Portland, Oregon, campaigned to establish ethnic studies classes in their high schools. Praised for their thorough preparation, the students are now working with school district leaders to make curricular reform a reality.
Also in 2015, students in Chicago Public Schools began a campaign demanding higher quality and more nutritious cafeteria food, leading both school- and city-wide boycotts of lunch. The pressure from the students and media caused the school and lunch provider to start offering lunch alternatives, albeit only mild improvements, just two months later.
You might claim that our affluent suburban school does not have such grave problems as contaminated lunches and fraudulent principals, so we shouldn’t bother to carve out time from our busy college-prep schedules to attempt to improve school.
And it is true that suburban concerns are rarely the focus of nationwide discussions of school reform. But that doesn’t mean that concerns don’t exist or don’t matter. Precisely because few adults can prioritize the radical transformation of “good” schools into “great” communities of learning, we students must advocate for ourselves and demand change.
If you complain in the hallways or in whispers to your friends, you might as well complain effectually and aloud. Try out some of these ideas:
May I add that school publications such as The Indianite and Rock Reverb are great avenues for student voice?
In fact, students in our district are already using their “voice” to instigate change. You likely know already of the student-backed petitions concerning our school mascot. Students are attending and commenting at School Board and Board committee meetings, reminding our educational decision-makers of the people they serve. Last December 1, 32 students throughout Bucks County, including a few from CR, traveled to Capitol Hill to testify on their experiences and observations of prejudice and hate in schools. Student organizations such as VOICE and DAC are also working to improve school according to their vision. And if their vision doesn’t match yours, speak up! We need your kindly dissenting voice.
But before you sprint into action, please be reminded, as all we passionate beings must be, to think and to empathize. Your point of view is not the only one, nor the only reasonable one. Thus, as we pursue school reform or any other community change, we must also convene to discuss our problems, our experiences, our hopes, and our possible solutions, engaging not in a debate where there are winners and losers, but in a dialogue in which we seek the truth, together.
That is the reason behind the name of a Facebook page I have started, CR Students for Educational Action and Dialogue (CRSEAD). I intended this page to be a forum for students to post their ideas and concerns about school, discuss educational issues, and eventually organize themselves to effect concrete change. Right now the page has only a few posts, most of them my own. If you see as I do the potential in a social media forum, please like the page and post on your experiences and thoughts on school.
There are many ways for students to get involved in making school how they want it to be. One of the most powerful is something I have not mastered myself, but it is the key to any cultural change. Model in yourself what you want others to do.
Youth and Making Change
How to Be a Student Activist
Student Voice: Join the Movement!
How to Testify to Your School Board
Student Rights in Pennsylvania
High School Press Freedom and Censorship
Youth Organizing for School Reform
Students Against Testing
Suburban School Reform
Successful Student-Led Advocacy
How to Succeed in Protesting
How Does Your School Look? Post It!