My name is Briar, and I am a high school student who wants to help others wherever I can. I would like to talk about the importance of having an open and supportive school community to student learning and independence.
I haven’t always been in a school that makes openness and support a priority. Although many of my schools wanted students to do better, whether that meant higher test scores or graduation rates, my past schools approached that goal in a way that was not actually helpful. They did not focus on me as an individual; I felt more like they herded us like cattle. There was never a chance to voice our needs and wants or give feedback, and instead they just focused on what they wanted from us. Because of that, students as individuals were left behind without the ability to express our honest selves.
That has changed at my current school, though. At my school, when I walk into the building, it feels like time freezes, in a good way that makes it easier to exist. My teachers and principal acknowledge my identity without getting stuck on it or putting pressure on me. My school gives us opportunities and the confidence to speak up and choose our own path, like with class registration, and then they support those opinions and choices. If I need extra help because I’m struggling with a class or with organizing my classwork, my school helps me create a system that works best for me. I get to choose the best way to make changes for myself, and they support me within those choices. All of these things make it easier to participate and be present in school, because I can do it as my honest self and my school shows me how to succeed from there. My school still wants us to do well in class and on tests, but their approach to that goal is to give us the space and the acceptance to be ourselves at school.
One of the most impactful experiences that I have had at my school that demonstrates this approach is when they organized an all-school activity day. After gathering the school together with the teachers, they invited all of us to play a game called Step to the Line. They asked yes-or-no questions, like whether you knew someone who was a victim of gun violence, and if your answer was yes, you would silently step forward. We didn’t have to talk about our experiences; we were just able to be honest and vulnerable about ourselves and our experiences without any judgment. That experience helped me to feel safe with my peers and with my teachers. I could understand them and their struggles better, and they could understand me and mine without having to explain. We could all just be ourselves, no questions asked.
I’m also a member of a local support group for LGBTQ+ youth in my community. Like my school, it is a place for me to get away. It doesn’t matter who I am or where I come from; in my support group, I just find easy acceptance. My school tries to do the same thing, and that effort means everything to me.
Having a school and a support group with this kind of open and supportive culture has fed into my ability to be myself, to be the genuine me I know and see inside, and to be in control of my life. When I walk into my school, it takes a weight off of my shoulders. I can be myself, and if I have setbacks, I trust that my school will accept them, help me to understand what happened, and give me the opportunity to try again. It has also helped me to become a more independent student. I can be true to myself and choose my own path because I know that my school will help me and support me in that choice.
I’m grateful to be able to share my story because I want other students to have the same opportunity to experience the open and supportive culture I have found at my current school. I want them to be able to be themselves without feeling hurt or judged, regardless of their struggles or mistakes. I want everyone to have a school that really sees them, accepts them, and gives them the confidence to keep trying and keep staying true to themselves and what they need.
I hope that other schools will give their students the space and support to be their honest selves, to encourage them and give them the chance to choose their own path, and then help them to succeed on that path. If schools need to give their students not only the space to speak up and voice their needs and wants, but also the support and encouragement to use that platform, students will have the confidence to be themselves, and that will lead to better learning at school and a better life outside of it.
“They did not focus on me as an individual; I felt more like they herded us like cattle.” —Briar
“At my school, when I walk into the building, it feels like time freezes, in a good way that makes it easier to exist.” —Briar
“They asked yes-or-no questions, like whether you knew someone who was a victim of gun violence, and if your answer was yes, you would silently step forward. We didn’t have to talk about our experiences; we were just able to be honest and vulnerable about ourselves and our experiences without any judgment.” —Briar