What School Should Be: The Strength of Student Voice

By: Megan Mead and Caroline Vander Ark
Our team spends a lot of time talking to educators, administrators, and city leaders across the country about what works in education, but last week, we had the great opportunity to talk with students about college and career readiness. The cohort of students are all part of Advancing Leadership Youth, a year-long community leadership development program.
As part of a day focused on economy and education, the students participated in a Hack Your Education workshop designed to highlight the innovative ways that schools around the country are supporting college and career readiness for all students. We opened the day with a simple question – finish this sentence “School is…” Their responses showed honesty and provided a genuine overview of what most high school kids in a traditional setting have to say about their educational experience:
AL-350pxw-2School Is…

  • Stressful
  • The key to success
  • Long
  • Standardized
  • Empowering
  • Fun
  • Cooperative
  • Sacrifice
  • A place to build your future
  • Challenging
  • Unpredictable
  • Way too hard
  • Exhausting

The students went on a virtual field trip of schools and programs across the country focused on college and career readiness for all students. We asked students to focus on five main areas they could innovate at their current schools:

  • Advisories
  • Self-directed learning
  • Project-based learning
  • Internships
  • Field experts & mentors

By the end of the workshop, four teams of students presented their plan for ensuring readiness at their schools. The winning group, who presented a passion-based advisory model that focuses on interests to build strong advisories, will get to present their idea to the Federal Way School District Superintendent, the local district EdLeader where the leadership program is located.
Passion Based Advisories:

  • A school wide program that prepares students for college and career
  • Advisory groups meet once a week
  • Includes once a month workshops that are targeted based on specific grade level needs (for example: Financial Aid and college application workshops for Juniors/Seniors and motivational team building workshops for Freshmen and Sophomores to help them feel involved in the HS experience)
  • Three times a month advisories meet for “Passion Projects.” Each advisory would focus on a “passion.” Students would be placed in advisory classes based on interests
  • Advisory teachers would be experts in the field, not necessarily a classroom teacher

For our team the day was a good reminder of the strength of the student voice. These young leaders came with a solution oriented mindset that is necessary to enact change. As we closed the day, we asked them to think about what school should be. We LOVED their responses:
School should be:

  • Where you can learn how you want to
  • Useful
  • Productive
  • Connected to individual student
  • Inspiring
  • A place of discovery
  • A place where you want to learn
  • A guide to the future
  • Something you look forward to
  • Empowering
  • Preparing you for life after HS
  • A learning experience
  • Engaging
  • Teaching you skills to use later in careers
  • Inspiring and Fun
  • Based on YOUR future
  • Encouraging
  • A place you love to go
  • Connecting you to your passion
  • Helpful

We’d love to hear ways you are creating innovations in college and career readiness. Please comment and tweet us. 
Megan Mead is a project manager and math contributor at Getting Smart. Follow her on Twitter @MegMarMe.

Caroline Vander Ark

Caroline is President of Getting Smart.

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