It's Time for Student Voices

A Peacemaking Project by Merrit J.

What is the injustice we are solving?

Student Voice aims to illustrate the state of schools today, as well as identify student-centric and student-created solutions to address the systemic inequity in the American education system. This inequity manifests itself as a disparity in access to opportunities and resources across schools nationwide, specifically as it relates to socioeconomically disadvantaged students and school districts. At Student Voice, we believe all students have the right to hold educational institutions accountable to them as partners in shaping their foundational experiences. Students must have a more powerful voice in order to combat the systemic inequity.

Our Compassionate Solution:

To solve this injustice of Education inequity
we will address a lack of student voice in education
by equipping the next cohort of Student Voice Ambassadors with recording devices and print materials to assist them in grassroots organizing and activism related to ensuring that all schools provide equitable education.

Our Project Plan:

Goals

  • See collaboration between students across the nation
  • Manifest items in the Student Bill of Rights on local levels
  • Student-led transformation of schools

We will increase my / our compassion by...

Being able to hear from the most marginalized student voices around the country first hand about their experiences in the education system.

How will you show courage?

It takes courage to stand up and advocate for change in a school system that has operated in the same way for over a century. Our team has been courageous in standing up for student voices in our communities and now we are working to provide the tools and support for other high school activists to do the same. We will be courageous in this important moment in the student movement. As students across the United States are fighting for their lives we will stand beside them and provide support as they transform their communities.

How will you collaborate with others?

The ambassador program exists to foster collaboration. Student Voice ambassadors collaborate to brainstorm ideas and provide feedback as they each implement change in their communities. Our team works with national partners to provide training, connections, and resources for our ambassadors.

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

We know we our work is effective when our ambassadors are empowered to enact change in their schools and districts. As they inspire their communities, their friends and adult allies join the work. We know change is happening when we hear stories from our ambassadors, like Taylor from South Carolina. After writing a report with student data from her peers, Taylor is now working with her administration to address mental health in her school.

Key Steps

  • reflect on the first year of the ambassadors program
  • select a new cohort of ambassadors
  • work with new partners to provides connections & resources
  • plan a retreat for the ambassadors to kick of the second year of the program
  • buy and distribute materials to ambassadors

Reflection:

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

We learned about the diversity of schools and experiences in the United States. Our ambassadors come from a wide-range of school communities. From rural to suburban, to urban, our experiences were dissimilar in some ways, such as funding, and alike in the lack of discussion around mental health. Our understanding of the state of schools grew through group conversations with the ambassador cohort. We have a new understanding of the issues and what resources are needed to address them.

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

We saw an impact in the schools where our ambassadors attend. For example, Taylor hosted a mental health roundtable with her peers and created a report with her findings. She is now working with her administration and district office in Charleston, SC to better address mental health in her school. Allison hosted a mental health conference for students all over Kentucky.

How many people were impacted by your project?

1000

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

Directly we impacted 10 high schoolers who participated. The policy changes impacted many that were led at school and district levels by ambassadors. Five of the ambassadors testified at school board meeting for policy changes they would like to see. It is likely even higher than 1,000.

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

We learned about the communities by hearing from the ambassadors then having them in-turn conduct roundtable discussions with their peers. The ambassadors created transcriptions and write-ups for the roundtables they hosted.

What did your team learn?

We learned that mental health and poor school climate is an issue that many students cite as a barrier to student engagement and deeper learning. Each roundtable spent a significant amount of time discussing the impact of mental health on student and their schools. Students reported wanting an increased voice in decision-making and being part of the effort to bringing better mental health resources to schools.

What challenges did your team overcome?

We had to rethink and adjust constantly. At first, we had monthly group goals and projects for the cohort. After the first half of the year, we had to re0evaluate and take a more individualized approach. We didn't always have 100% attendance with all 10 ambassadors for monthly calls so we worked to bring cool speakers and resources to encourage attendance.

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

Yes! The reflection on the first year has been a team-wide effort. We recently brought on 5 new team members who will be a part of the strategic planning for year two.

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

First, start with research! When I was first investigating education equity, I began by researching on the internet then asking decision-makers at my school, district and at the State House to sit down with me. There is power in being a young person when requesting a meeting, use it! Next, find people in your community on and offline to work with you. The people I work with are essential and have become my closest friends. Surrounding yourself with other peacemakers lightens the load and is energizing.

Our Updates:

Year One comes to an End

Merrit J. 31 May 2018 15:11 Student Voice just wrapped up programming for our inaugural cohort of ambassadors. Ten ambassadors from diverse communities from Portland, OR to Philadelphia, PA led projects and engaged in important dialogues about issues that plague the US education system and how young people can address them. Ambassadors testified to their school boards, hosted roundtable discussion and launched their own project to transform their schools. 

Charleston, SC ambassador Taylor shared: “After watching the mental wellbeing of my peers decline over the past couple of years, the Student Voice Ambassador program gave me the confidence I needed to advocate for stronger mental health resources in my school community. With the support of the Student Voice team, I’ve strengthened mental health supports for students districtwide.”

We are working to reflect and think about what the second year of the program. Applications for the second cohort of students will go out this summer. 

Comments:

Adrian B.
31 July 2018 15:53

Hi Merrit!

I wanted to check in and make sure that you knew about the first-ever Peace First Summit happening on September 16th in New York City. This event will lift up the stories of young people who are changing the world, right now.

We are flying out five young people who completed the Peace First Challenge to share their stories of change onstage, connect with Peace First fellows, get advice from a Brain Trust, and receive peer mentoring from a Peace First Fellow.

We want you (or a member of your team) to apply to be featured at the Summit! You can start your application right here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd6X9fTrSTC6PoXjLpVUtNlJgZHbd5QdB6-hgxlC-d7DBlK_g/viewform You must submit your application by tomorrow, Wednesday, August 1st. If you have any questions, please let me know!

Warmly,
Adrian

RaulPF C.
7 March 2018 9:00

Hi Merrit,
Thanks again for joining the community and for sharing your project.
It's inspiring to see young people working to find solutions to address systemic inequity in the American education system.

Are there any particular areas where you need help the most? We would love to help.

The next step in your project journey is to submit your compassionate insight. You can find instructions and a place to submit it here:
https://www.peacefirst.org/projects/its-time-student-voices/dashboard/compassionate-insight

Also, you may want to connect with other projects working on similar issues like this one:
https://www.peacefirst.org/projects/iowa-student-learning-institute

We look forward to supporting your work!

Best,

Raul

Adrian B.
3 April 2018 16:48

Hi Merrit,

Thanks so much for posting this project! It's great to see this project from Student Voice--we're always excited to support and boost your work.

As part of the process of completing peacemaking projects, Peace First staff give formal feedback on important steps of your project. One of those steps is the compassionate insight.

I love the insight that you have here, and the project ideas you have! It's perceptive and innovative to talk about a root cause of education inequity as a lack of student voice in education. (And very true!) And your solution to this injustice is spot-on. Your insight is good to go! The next step is to submit an application for a mini-grant, which you can do on your dashboard. Let me know if you have questions about that process!

One thing I encourage you to think about more (and maybe you already are) is how to make sure all student voices are heard. Are there ways Student Voice lifts up students who are most negatively affected by educational inequity?

I'd also encourage you to connect with other projects in the Peace First community which are working on these issues. Here are a few of them:

https://www.peacefirst.org/projects/your-vote-your-voice-teen-voices-must-be-heard
https://www.peacefirst.org/projects/epidemic-silence-plaguing-students
https://www.peacefirst.org/projects/civic-engagement-post-millennial-age
https://www.peacefirst.org/projects/civic-engagement-asian-americans
https://www.peacefirst.org/projects/promotion-peace-and-youth-civic-engagement-burkina-faso

I hope this is useful! Please let us know how we can support this important work. Thanks again, and I'm excited to see where this project goes!

Best,
Adrian


Fish S.
13 April 2018 23:36

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:
Merrit, we are such fans of your work! I think you make a compelling case for the link between a lack of student voice in education and persistent educational inequity...and I love your work to empower students to be organizers and authentically lift up the voices of other students. Sounds like you have a plan that is both ambitious on a national level and also provides great support for students to meet the unique needs of their community. You certainly demonstrate incredible collaboration in the way you make space for all students to be leaders, and courage in the way you are challenging a system that has been so slow to change!

Things to consider (Opportunities to further strengthen the project)
Like Adrian, I'm really interested to hear more about the work you're doing to make Student Voice accessible. As you mention, it's so important that we're hearing from students who are the most marginalized in these discussions. I know from watching you at work that you are great at welcoming folks in and that Student Voice is open to all...but I'm wondering how you approach the challenge of working with students who don't yet see themselves as leaders, and reaching out proactively to them to develop their agency.

Congratulations and best of luck with your project!

Fish S.
13 April 2018 23:40

Also...let us know if we can be helpful in other ways! Happy to help think through what it looks like to train and support these organizers to do work on the ground -- or connect you to folks who can! And it should go without saying that all of these students doing projects in their home communities should treat Peace First as a resource for tools, community, and funding!

Adrian B.
15 June 2018 22:30

Hi Merrit,

Congratulations on finishing your peacemaking project! I’m on the Peace First team and wanted to say thank you for your amazing work and for taking time to share about your work.

Below you will find 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:

Strengths:

This project--and Student Voice as an organization--is powerful and important. I'm impressed at the impact students have had with just one year of the ambassador program. I also appreciate the focus ambassadors landed on around mental health being a huge contributor to educational inequity. It's such a vital and under-served health need.

Things to consider:

I'm curious about the school level/age range of students involved in leadership with Student Voice. Are there high schoolers taking on leadership as well as college age students? I'm also wondering how Student Voice can support young people who are not in school, and how the diversity of students in the country can be reflected in student ambassadors and leaders across all ranges of experience.

So excited for your work and to see where the ambassador program goes form here!

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

Best,
Adrian