Iowa Student Learning Institute

A Peacemaking Project by Ryan L.

What is the injustice we are solving?

The Iowa Student Learning Institute works to revolutionize Iowa's approach to education through the power of student voice. Students have been neglected for years from having a say in how their education is run, yet education directly affects students more than any other group of people. IowaSLI is dedicated to advocating for the rights of students to create the change they want to see in their education and community. Through our three-event cycle every year, we enable students to network and start new conversations, as well as learn how to organize through grassroots action in their schools. Education is currently run by administrators, school boards, and politicians. These adults are somewhat if not completely removed from classrooms, where education is actually being applied. That group of people is not fully qualified to decide what is best for students when they are not receiving the education. Students sit in a classroom for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, 180 days a year. They are the constituents of education, and therefore should be included in the decisions that directly affect them. IowaSLI was formed to work against this injustice and still continues to work towards this goal five years after its inception.

Our Compassionate Solution:

To solve this injustice of Oppression of student voices
we will address the institutional and cultural inequities and disparaties that help to maintain the status quo and the typical role of a studnet
by bringing to light the issues in education that affect students, and empowering students with resources and training on how to make a difference in their schools and communities.

Our Project Plan:


  • Create grassroots student action teams, Power of Voice teams, in schools throughout Iowa.
  • Form an Iowa Student Press Corps to report on the state of education in Iowa.
  • We will know we have reached our goal for Phase 1 when we have 10 POV teams officially started.
  • We will have reached our final goal when we have created a POV team in each of Iowa's 99 counties.
  • We will have reached our goal for the Press Corps when we have 20 students actively writing pieces for our blog.
  • We will begin officially forming POV groups in August 2018.
  • We will release the application for the Iowa Student Press Corps in May 2018.

We will increase my / our compassion by...

fostering the discussion amongst students in Iowa about the issues affecting them in their education. We will record these discussions and analyze them to better understand what the body politic of our schools believe are the key issues we must solve. Our team alone cannot think of all the issues, so we need to ensure we are always open to new voices, ideas, and opinions.

How will you show courage?

Standing side-by-side with the students of Iowa, even when teachers, administrators, adults, and other students criticize the use of student voices. Speak out about the issues plaguing Iowa's students, even when no one wants to talk about them because they are hard or controversial.

How will you collaborate with others?

We will collaborate with key allies in the education community, as well as civically active individuals and local/state politicians. One of our key ways to collaborate will be through the creation of the Iowa Student Voice Collaboratory. This group will consist of student organizations, administrators, teachers, student activists, education experts, and community officials. Together, this group will work as a mutual-aid society, creating partnerships and relationships that benefit the work of everyone in the Collaboratory.

How will you know you are moving in the right direction? (What are specific ways you can measure your impact?)

Our key measurement will be the forming of new Power of Voice groups. The more that are registered and created, the more students that are joining the movement. We will also measure online engagement through social media data, and through event attendance. Increasing the partnerships we have as well as financial contributors will also be a key measurement of our progress.

Key Steps

  • Launch application for open job positions in IowaSLI that need to be filled.
  • Hire a new student to be our Executive Editor, who is in charge of the Iowa Student Press Corps.
  • Launch application for the Iowa Student Press Corps with the intent of accepting 20 student journalists.
  • Executive Editor will meet with each student journalist individually to determine their first assigment and topic focus for their reporting.
  • Student journalists will submit their first pieces to the Executive Editor to be checked and then posted on the IowaSLI medium blog and advertised through social media.
  • IowaSLI will launch a social media campaign advertising the Power of Voice guide to encourage students to form their own POV groups.
  • POV Director will actively work to identify new schools and student activists to reach out to in order to start POV groups.


How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?

Our project has enabled us to speak and interact with thousands of students from across Iowa and the country. This has allowed us to hear hundreds of viewpoints and stories to create a picture of the current status of education and student voice in schools. We have learned a lot about current policies that hurt students or hold them back. We have also learned more about the inequities between schools because of socio-economic status as well as race. This one-on-one interaction with students has given us very valuable feedback.

How did your community change as a result of your project?

Our community (Iowa) has changed a lot over the past four years due to the Iowa Student Learning Institute. We are the largest student voice organization in the state and have led the way for students to stand up and speak out in their schools. We have increased our social media reach, and are well known by education officials, teachers, administrators, and politicians across the state. I think the biggest change we have made so far is making "student voice" a known phrase, and growing the movement so that more people are actively involved in it.

How many people were impacted by your project?


Explain how you came up with the number of people impacted by the project?

This number is a rough estimate and is likely under what our actual total is. It is very hard to measure the number of people impacted, but based on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram engagements, our email lists, people who have attended our conferences, amount of places we have presented at, and other organizations, sharing our work, this is how we come up with this number.

How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?

Similar to the first question, we spoke to them. You can do all the research, polling, and guessing in the world, but none of it will compare to personal conversations with the people directly affected by the injustice, or, for us, students. Their stories are invaluable and are first-hand accounts of the problems that affect our schools and the students that attend them.

What did your team learn?

Our team learned that there is a massive want and need for grassroots student organizations in schools. When we have presented our Power of Voice groups to students and teachers, both groups really like the idea and want to start one within their school. We also learned that storytelling is powerful. Several of our op-ed pieces have gotten a lot of attention, and it is because student voices are so rarely given a large platform. This is a technique we will be continuing to implement more in the future.

What challenges did your team overcome?

Our challenges are many times based off of our team's ability to work well together and within time limits. Our team works remotely, as we are all spread out across Iowa. This makes it difficult to communicate sometimes, which slows our progress and getting things done. We are creating new communication guidelines in our organization that will help keep us better connected and working more efficiently.

How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?

We often consult student voice allies on our projects. We work closely with the national organization Student Voice, sharing ideas and coordinating certain aspects of the movement. We also consult with the Pritchard Committee Student Voice Team in Kentucky and Oregon Student Voice. We also gain feedback from our partners in Iowa, of which there are many, such as SIYAC and Community Youth Concepts.

What advice would you give to someone starting a peacemaking project?

My advice would be that if you think you're crazy for doing this, if it seems like normal people wouldn't do this, especially if you're a student, then you're doing something right. The most successful people were never the ones to blend in with a crowd. They stand out, even when their peers do not support them. It's going to be hard - I've worked on my project for over 4 years now, and I'm nowhere near where I want to be yet. But if you continue to persevere, it will eventually pay off. Consider it an investment - it takes time to grow and gain more value. Just keep doing what you're doing.


Amani A. Peace First Staff
6 June 2018 18:08
Dear Ryan,

Congratulations to you and your team on finishing your peacemaking project, well done!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your work during the project implementation and what you have learned so far! I am on the Peace First team and wanted to say thank you for your amazing work and for taking time to share your work.

I would like to provide you with some feedback based on your Reflection, which we hope will help you to celebrate your incredible accomplishment and reflect on how to grow and develop your project in the future: It was really great to read about the change that Iowa created in the community by providing a voice for the students and how you are trying to grow the movement so that more people are actively involved in it. Also, it was helpful to learn that your starting point of this project was the students themselves by hearing their stories in order to understand the situation, and how much you value the personal conversation with them. I also appreciate that you are currently working to create new communication guidelines in the organization which will help keep better connected and working more efficiently with the whole team.

Would you be able to share some stories that you heard from the students? We would love to learn more about the situation and get a better sense of the impact of the project!

We hope you will stay in touch and keep us up to date as you continue your work to create change!

Andrew C.
21 May 2018 11:26
I think this project is awesome! I am a huge advocate for education reform and I think IowaSLI can truly make a difference. It would be interesting to see if there are other corporations or entrepreneurs in your area to partner with in order to spread awareness through cross-promotions and even to raise funds. I think it could also be great to give out/sell select merchandise, which could really help increase brand awareness in your area. The mission is spot-on and I think it will make a big difference, not only in Iowa but wherever you can expand to as well. Keep it going!
Bonnie B. Peace First Staff
6 April 2018 21:01
Hi Ryan,
Congratulations! Your project has been selected to receive a Peace First Challenge mini-grant. We will be in touch soon with details about this payment.

The mini-grant process is also a space for you to get feedback on your peacemaking project. We hope you will use this feedback to further strengthen your project. Please see the feedback on your mini-grant below.

Strengths: The video and application were very clear and particularly impressive because of the opportunity to go to scale.

Things to Consider:
It would be interesting for you to think about additional community partners that can drive visibility and awareness to your work. I would also focus on the specific calls to action you want the Power of Voice groups to focus on to help them be most effective.

Congratulations and best of luck with your project!

Adrian B.
29 March 2018 20:34
Hi Ryan,

Just checking in about your project and the next steps. I wanted to make sure you are aware of the upcoming Mini-Grant Deadline - there is still time to remain eligible to attend a Peace First Challenge Accelerator if you complete your Compassionate Insight, Project Plan, and Mini-Grant application by March 31st.

We're excited about your work, and would love to be able to support it with a mini-grant of up to $250.

These tools can help you craft your insight, plan, and budget for your mini-grant:

Through your dashboard you can submit your "compassionate insight," record your plan in "Make a plan" and then "Apply for a mini-grant" for the materials you need.

Let me know how I can help!

RaulPF C.
7 March 2018 8:27
Hi Ryan,
Thanks so much for sharing your project. We believe strongly that the students' voice is key to help reimagine the way students are currently learning.

I would love to hear more about how we can help support your efforts.

The next step in your project journey is to submit your compassionate insight. You can find instructions and a place to submit it here:

We look forward to supporting your work!

Jeremiah A.
27 February 2019 10:55
Hi! Fellow Iowan here. I have some experience with Student Voice movements, and I would love to hear more about this!