In November, Student Voice announced plans for a nationwide tour at the White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools. The tour is first bringing Student Voice to Philadelphia, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina to connect with students. Led by UNC student and National Field Director, Andrew Brennen, the tour will shadow the 2016 presidential campaign trail.
Each stop of the tour will create space for students to, often for the first time, think critically about their schools. Students will vote on the Student Bill of Rights, participate in Student voice roundtable sessions, and strategize ways that they can insert themselves as stakeholders in their education.
Student Voice plans to reach at least 10,000 students from all 50 states through the Student Bill of Rights voting platform through the tour.
"The goal of our tour is to inspire and engage students of all ages to be more active agents in their own learning" -Andrew Brennen, StuVoice National Field Director
Over the course of the day in Bettendorf Andrew hosted 6 rounds of Student Voice Sessions. The goal of Student Voice Sessions is simple; to create space for students to think critically about school. Often, Student Voice Sessions are the first time students are given this opportunity.
The conversations are always slow at first. Student aren’t used to thinking this way. But over the course of the discussion you can see student consciousness start raising and their perspectives yield some profound observations.
There were two conversations throughout the day that had my mind racing during my drive to Webster City after the day was over. The first took place early in the morning at Bettendorf Middle School.
I was facilitating a roundtable with five girls. Three were white, one was mixed, and one was African American. Four of the girls were eager to share and reflect on their experiences in school but one girl sat with her head down most of the conversation. The discussion went from school lunch, to class choice, to school governance, to Safety and Well-being and all the while one voice at the table stayed silent.
Eventually I asked someone to take over for me facilitating and pulled the girl outside to speak with her one on one.
Me: You’ve been quiet.
K: I’ve had nothing to say.
Me: Have you ever felt unsafe at school?
K: I make people feel unsafe at school.
K: I’m the bully
K: I have to be; otherwise people will walk all over me.
The second moment came towards the end of the day. The discussion was at the local high school and contained 6 students total. Two of them were from entirely different walks of life.
One was a soft spoken Asian student who spoke openly about mostly keeping to himself and spending a lot of time studying. Throughout the conversation he spoke rarely but when he did he spoke in long monologues that were mostly too hard to hear (or pick up on my voice recorder).
The other was an African American student who spoke one time throughout our conversation. He made faces and mannerism that sent his message loud and clear “I don’t want to be here”, and when I say here I don’t mean our conversation but school itself.
The conversation turned to Safety and well being again and I asked the question “How does school affect your mental health”.
Asian student: I think I’m addicted to sadness.
He was too quiet and I could’ve sworn I misheard him. But I wasn’t the only one interested in what he said. The African American student , who up to this point had not said a single word suddenly leaned in and looked this kid in the eye.
African American: What? What did you just say?
Asian student: I am addicted to sadness.
African American: huh…I think I am too.
The Asian student went on to describe how the pressures to succeed in school along with things like test scores, GPA, and college expectations led him to the conclusion that he is addicted to sadness. These two students began to connect on a level that I don’t think either of them would have expected in their wildest dreams.
What can we do in school to help these students?
Bettendorf is an interesting place. The school historically maintains a reputation as the white, wealthy school but like many schools around the country their demographics are changing and the schools are struggling to adjust.
The movement is live. #StuVoice
-Andrew Brennen, StuVoice National Field Director