Legislative Briefing at the Massachussetts State House

On February 25, 2020, 12 Massachusetts high school students testified at the Massachusetts State House about what they need in order to do well in school. The students advocated for the Legislature to continue funding the Massachusetts Safe and Supportive Schools initiative and to prioritize student voice in educational decision making.

Prior to the briefing, the students spent several weeks working with attorneys and law students from the Education Law Clinic of Harvard Law School to identify their personal priorities and develop their testimony. The students hosted members of the Clinic at their high schools and also journeyed for a visit to the Harvard Law School campus during their February school vacation. The students learned what it means to self-advocate, how to speak effectively to policy makers, and the value of using their own voices to push for change.

Legislators heard directly from students about what they need from their schools. Priorities highlighted by the students included strong relationships with teachers, opportunities for genuine learning, safe and supportive school and classroom environments, and support for students with disabilities. Most importantly, students expressed how much they want adults to listen to them when they open up about their needs and struggles.

Visit each student’s page below to read his or her testimony in full and to see video clips from the legislative briefing.

Chris

Chris

I feel like if more teachers understood our backgrounds, things would go better because teachers would know how to talk to students and have relationships with them. Read Chris’ Statement

Jaylee

Jaylee

If you have adult mentors at school encouraging you and reminding you that you have potential, you start to believe them. Read Jaylee’s Statement

Gabriela

Gabriela

In order to make connections with students, in order for them to feel supported like I did, you first have to hear them. This means hearing students’ voices in the classroom. Read Gabriela’s Statement

Chinyere

Chinyere

From our perspective, the academic levels create more division than unity, which impedes everyone’s learning. Read Chinyere’s Statement

Corine

Corine

I think adults at my school know what kinds of changes need to be made to help students succeed: like not just caring about students’ test scores but also their success as holistic people. Read Corine’s Statement

Taeyah

Taeyah

As students, some of us spend more time with teachers and counselors than we do with our own families. They are the people who teach us and set us up for our futures. We want to feel understood and accepted. Read Taeyah’s Statement

Omari

Omari

I feel like there is a difference between doing the work just to do it and doing the work to understand it, and I know that I get more out of classes when my teachers focus on the latter. Read Omari’s Statement

Alice

Alice

For me, one of the most important parts of a safe and supportive school is that all the adults in the building understand how to care for and support all of the students. Read Alice’s Statement

Chelsea

Chelsea

We all need and deserve access to positive relationships, a sense of well-being, community, and our own potential. Read Chelsea’s Statement

Jonathan

Jonathan

With safety, cooperation and community – rather than just memorization – all of our students will learn and achieve so much more. Read Jonathan’s Statement

Michelle

Michelle

My peers and I find it impossible to focus in class if we do not feel supported, so spreading this feeling throughout the building would help us all succeed. Read Michelle’s Statement

Trish

Trish

It is vital for us to feel connected and have strong relationships with our teachers. If the teachers and students have a stronger personal bond, then it makes it easier for us to learn in class. Read Trish’s Statement

Anonymous

Anonymous

The human relationships are what really matter and will truly build the community between students and staff in school. Without them, all the programs in the world won’t be able to help. Read Anonymous’ Statement

Listening to students is a requirement for strong and healthy relationships at school

A talk by former Boston Public Schools principal Virginia (Jinny) Chalmers

After each of the students spoke, former Boston Public Schools principal Virginia (Jinny) Chalmers shared with those in attendance what she personally learned from listening to these young people.

Listening to students is a requirement for strong and healthy relationships at school. This means listening every day in every way. If a student can feel that their voice is heard, they feel supported to learn and achieve. We don’t often think of listening to students as the root to all achievement, and it is critical.

One of the most effective, and easiest ways to deepen administrator and staff understanding is to listen to and hear students. You just have to talk to them. Ask them what’s happening with their life. What do we need to do to make school a better place for you.

Additional Photos of Students at the State House


  • Sen. Sal DiDomenico meets with students from Chelsea High School.

  • Rep. Andy Vargas and Rep. Christina Minicucci pose with Haverhill High School students at the Speaker’s Rostrum.

  • Sen. Mike Brady engages with students following their testimony.

  • Rep. Ruth Balser thanks the students for their testimony on Safe and Supportive Schools.

After the formal legislative briefing, students attended private meetings with their own legislators to speak informally about their priorities for education. Many of the students were given tours of the State House by their Representatives and Senators. Some were even invited on to the floor of the House of Representatives and were allowed to pose for a photo at the Speaker’s Rostrum.