My name is Jaylee and I am a sophomore. I’m here to ask you to help make my high school a safe and supportive place for everyone. I believe an important step to doing this is listening to our perspectives on what it’s like to attend our school and what we think can be done to help us learn and prepare for our lives ahead. Thank you for being here and listening to us.
I have a relative who dropped out after struggling in school academically and socially. They suffered from anxiety about their performance in schoolwork and getting bullied by their classmates. Most of all, they needed a supportive and trustworthy adult to encourage them and make sure they feel safe and supported at school. When they didn’t have access to that support, they felt like they had no choice but to drop out just to feel safe. But it’s not just that person: we all need someone we can talk to honestly about our personal obstacles, especially if we don’t have too many other people to do that with. Sometimes we are lucky enough to find an adult at school we consider a mentor but if they leave or are replaced, we lose that one person we relied on to support us through our four years in high school. In my freshman year, I had a guidance counselor I looked up to and relied on for support during tough times. When she left, I lost the trusted adult who had made me feel safe at school and was again left to myself. I have seen that this is sometimes all it takes for some of us to lose hope and give up, no matter how well we understand that dropping out can negatively impact our lives. And it’s even more sad because I know that with the right relationships and resources, many of those students could have stayed in school and graduated to prepare for a better future.
I know what these students have gone through because I was headed in that same direction. I often suffered from anxiety that made it hard to concentrate on learning during school and struggled to pass my classes. It didn’t help that in one particular class, the teacher told us that if you don’t learn, that’s on you. I started thinking I wouldn’t be able to do well no matter how hard I tried, so I might as well just give up. And if you tell yourself this all the time, you start to really believe it. But I have been lucky to have the dean of students at my school who is there to tell me I have the potential to be successful and encourages me to never give up. Even when I make mistakes and slip up, again and again he tells me the same thing: you can pass any class and graduate if you put your mind to it. And if you have adult mentors at school encouraging you and reminding you that you have that potential, you start to believe them.
Now, I’m determined to work as hard as I can and finish high school because I know how important education is for my future. After I graduate, I aspire to go to college and eventually become an entrepreneur. My dream is to help kids like me get all of the resources and support they need, that I didn’t get. If I hadn’t had a close relationship with my dean who reminded me of my potential, I don’t know if I would still be in school. And if I didn’t have my guidance counselor to hear me out and remind me that my feelings and opinions are valuable, I don’t know if I would be here speaking to you in this room. I believe that we can help get students who feel like giving up on their education back on track if we make sure they have relationships with trusted adults at school, both inside and outside the classroom, who can give them encouragement and support like I have gotten.
And this is what brings me back to student voice. If there were more opportunities for us to tell you what is really important to our learning, I think one thing you would hear over and over again is “it’s all about the relationships.” And if adults really listened to us, they might come up with new and better ways to help schools improve so more students can succeed. They might look at things like staff turnover, or the number of long-term subs being used, or surveys that ask students if they have mentors at school, just to name a few possibilities. We don’t have all the answers, but we know what we need.
That’s why I’m here to ask you to include students’ voices in our schools. We as students have so much to offer in developing safe and supportive schools for everyone. Please include ways to make our voices heard in the safe and supportive schools program, so that we can directly and effectively communicate our needs, including our need for strong relationships with trusted adults. Thank you for your support in empowering our voices and preparing all of us for a better future.
“If there were more opportunities for us to tell you what is really important to our learning, I think one thing you would hear over and over again is ‘it’s all about the relationships.’” —Jaylee
“And if you have adult mentors at school encouraging you and reminding you that you have that potential, you start to believe them.” —Jaylee
This website is dedicated to the valuable lessons we can learn from students’ own experiences about how to create better schools. Decisions about schooling are often made without listening deeply to students themselves. But students are in the best position to understand what they need in order to do well in school.
A collaboration of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC). LEARN MORE