Like all school boards in Ontario, my local public school board has a student trustee (some larger boards have more than one). This is an initiative aimed at bringing student representation to the governing table, and I don’t mean to dismiss it as an insignificant gesture – it’s not. The student trustees I have met are competent, impressive people who take their role seriously and do it well.
But it’s an awfully limited way to build in student input. If we are serious about really listening to students’ concerns and really including them in decisions that impact their present and future lives, student trusteeships are not half enough. In a sea of adult voices, how much influence can one student exert? How much time is actually carved out of busy school board agendas to specifically listen to student concerns, and how often are they acted upon?
Moreover, student trustees are not really the students we most need to listen to. In most cases, they are the kids who excel at school – and who like it enough to take on more school-related work in their free time. We need to hear from the students for whom school is a struggle, the students who feel alienated, disengaged, even unsafe. And we need to be talking to all students about the things that are most meaningful to them, in their classrooms, in their schools, in their future plans.
In this issue we explore the “why” and “how” of student voice. Sean Lessard’s “The Red Worn Runners” (pg. 26) is a moving account of how having a personal conversation with every Indigenous student in his school revealed their aspirations and challenges, and led to a creative solution that took both students and teachers to unexpected places. Kate Tillczek shares two projects that “place the voices of youth at their core” (p. 34). Susan Groundwater-Smith, in her overview of the challenges and advances in student voice work, argues that this is a human rights issue with a moral imperative (p. 30). And Madeleine Villa shows us the work of three student activists who stepped up and made things happen in their schools (p. 21).
I hope after reading these articles, you’ll spend some time thinking about your own students, school and district. Could we do more to invite student input and share decision-making with them? Should we?
P.S. In other news, we had an anniversary! 2016 marks CEA’s 125th year. Check out “Education Nation” (p. 56) to trace the path that brought us to our present-day identity.
Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, December 2016
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