Hello, my name is Juan and I am a senior in high school. I have a dream that one day all students will look forward to going to school. In my dream, every student feels connected to their school.

Because of the pandemic and the challenges of the last two years we have lost much of the positive social experience of school. So many of us have been dealing with so many things and balancing so many responsibilities. It has felt like too much to carry at times. There never seems to be enough time to focus on things like mental health and preparing for life after high school. And sometimes it seems that the school and the world expects us students to act like nothing ever happened. Going back to the old way hasn’t felt the same. To me, the way to help students reconnect is by improving the school environment. Three areas that schools can focus on to improve the school environment and help students reconnect are relationships, class structure, and systems for listening to students.

First, teachers should focus on building relationships with their students. We need to know that teachers care. We want them to care about what we know and what we feel and what we need. Not only do we need to feel physically safe but also academically safe to share our thoughts and contribute to class. And we need to feel comfortable enough to share when we are struggling and need support.

Healthy relationships with teachers are not all that we need. Student-to-student relationships are also very important. Teachers and school leaders shouldn’t assume that this will just happen—especially after the pandemic. Many of us feel socially isolated. We need to see each other not just as classmates, but as other human beings we can have a connection with.

In addition, classes and the curriculum need to be structured so students feel connected to what they are learning. A class shouldn’t just be taught by the handbook. I don’t look forward to attending classes where someone just hands me a worksheet or packet and expects me to know how to do the work already, or to just read a textbook. The classes I look forward to the most are those where genuine and engaging learning is taking place.

Finally, and too easily overlooked, schools need to set up systems to listen to students. Schools are for students after all. Let’s try to really understand where students are coming from. Let’s understand what the issues are and why students are struggling so we can work towards solutions and not temporary suspensions. Taking a little time to understand will save time in the long run because there will be fewer issues and less conflict. I also know that often ninth graders are the ones struggling the most. From day one, schools should be setting up a way to listen to students.

One possible idea I have is to make sure students are included in setting school policies and decisions. Especially related to school regulations and norms, as well as the reasons why we have them. Students would feel more accountable if they knew they had a say. For example, if a student brought up an idea or a suggestion for improvement, and it was reasonable, and the school did it, it would support the overall school culture. Because … OK … the principal listens to us. Then the question becomes, what else can we work on together?

All of this will help with the school environment. An environment that is positive and uplifting will cause students to want to come to school. It’s like a job where, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’re not going to want to go and you’re not going to be very passionate and work effectively at your job. I feel like the school is mainly about the students and if the students don’t enjoy coming to the school, then why does everyone bother making all the effort?

I ask you to support the safe and supportive schools item. School is about the students. And students need to feel connected to their school, their learning and others.

Juan talks about genuine learning

“I have a dream that one day all students will look forward to going to school.”

“Teachers should focus on building relationships with their students.”

“Schools are for students after all.”