Hello, my name is Sean and I am a sophomore in high school. I’m going to talk about how giving students more responsibility in schools and treating us with more respect is an important way to rebuild the community that we lost during the pandemic.
Personally, my mental health was very negatively impacted during the pandemic. And it wasn’t only me. The pandemic isolated students and negatively impacted everyone’s mental health. Coming back to school this year, many of us have experienced a feeling of alienation. Despite this, the administrators at my school have attempted to return to an idea of ‘normal’ without addressing the lingering effects of the pandemic or even the issues that were present beforehand. In my academic classrooms my peers and I mechanically complete assignments, where we feel distant from the teacher, where we are hesitant to give feedback to our teacher out of fear of being reprimanded, and where we find little academic support. This results in the student population feeling alienated from teachers, the administration, and each other. It is all the more necessary now to emphasize student voice and to listen to and address the needs that we have.
The only way I have been able to bounce back this year is because of all the clubs and activities that I have gotten involved in. Not only have these activities provided social interaction (which, needless to say, was not present during Covid) but they also have given me a sense of community and responsibility–they have allowed my voice to be heard. Specifically, in Student Council, I find that the two teachers who run it do an amazing job of listening to students’ voices. Instead of taking the traditional pedagogical role of instructing us what to do, they instead offer assistance and guidance, adding on to and supporting our ideas. This approach gives responsibility to the students and it makes us feel as though these teachers truly respect us as people. Because the projects are student-led, this also brings about a strong sense of community that draws us closer together with our school and with our fellow students. Personally, the ability to share my voice and affect real change within my school community has given me more purpose to come to school, and the friends I have met through extracurricular programs have made school far more enjoyable.
This has been good for me, but students should not have to belong to a special club to experience this kind of responsibility and respect. I believe that supportive teachers and outlets for student voice should exist throughout our school. These outlets are necessary for promoting a better, safer environment within schools. They will empower students and instill a stronger sense of community that will bring students even closer together. My school worked with students to apply together for a Safe and Supportive Schools Grant. This year we are beginning a planning process that I hope will allow more outlets for student voice to be created in our school and will consequently allow more students to be able to share their voices. If more students are able to share their voices, then we have more perspectives, and if we have more perspectives, then we can more effectively accommodate the needs of everyone within our school community. I believe this is what will reduce the alienation students are feeling and help everyone learn better.
Lastly, I have to mention that there is an unfortunate number of voices that currently go unheard in my school, especially from students of color and economically disadvantaged students, but these are the voices that are most necessary moving forward, since these voices have historically been ignored and silenced. I hope that through our grant, my school will also use this pandemic and in its aftermath to seize the opportunity to reevaluate our school and who it is built for. Hopefully with the voices of every student, regardless of who they are, we can create a new school community that is built for everyone.
Please increase funding for the Safe and Supportive Schools grant program and please encourage the program to focus on student voice so that more schools will undertake the kind of work we are beginning in my school.
Sean talks about student voice
“During this pandemic and in its aftermath, we must take the opportunity to reevaluate our school system and who it is built for, and hopefully with the voices of every student, regardless of who they are, we can create a new system that is built for everyone.”
“I believe, then, that an outlet for student voice and supportive teachers to guide that outlet are necessary in promoting a better, safer environment within schools.”
“Please increase funding for the Safe and Supportive Schools grant program and please encourage the program to focus on student voice so that more schools will undertake the kind of work we are beginning in my school.”