Maximizing “Student Voice”


Too often the mantra ‘Student Voice’ falls on deaf ears. Certainly, the views by some students do get heard. Student representatives–elected by their high school peers–who serve on their School Boards tend to earn respect from their adult counterparts. A genuine collegiality can thrive. If student reps make waves, their influence on the Board can take a dive.

Only a few school boards in the country give student reps voting power. This advisory role further undermines real clout. Another criticism is the burden on one or two full-time high school students to represent the entire student population.

Is there a way to democratize the decision-making process that spans from school budgets, testing to discipline and other rules? Imagine if the primary stakeholders had the opportunity to weigh in on the critical decisions that affect them five days a week.

Surprise! Some school board members believe that students should join adults (many of whom went to school decades ago) in electing school board candidates rather than only their student rep. The San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of extending voting rights to 16 and 17-year-olds. This ballot measure, which included lowering the voting age for Mayor and the County Board of Supervisors, lost but not by a large margin. In neighboring Berkeley, the School Board members shared the same belief that education policy making would be better informed with this expanded constituency. A whopping 70% of adult voters agreed and in the next election, all students age 16 and up will have this opportunity.

Here are a few links for more information about this controversial proposal.

Do you think ‘Student Voice’ will have real meaning and influence if students also can vote? Yea or Nay?

Recommended Recruiting Strategies

I had the terrific opportunity to moderate the inaugural Youth Ideas panel with the overarching theme of “Interrupting Injustice” at the International Arts & Ideas Festival. It seems only fair for me to pass along some key points shared by four local activists in New Haven, Connecticut. Click here for brief bios of these inspiring change agents.

  • “Just start…People are waiting for someone to take a stand.” Jeremy Cajigas, now 16, launched Eliminate Racial Profiling because “Fear is what caused me to make my voice heard. Trayvon Martin could have been me.” Jeremy cold-called the Mayor and got her and the Police Chief to come to a youth-organized summit. One outcome: students now are teaching cops how to interact with teens.
  • “Relationships are the foundation…Emotional community building is at the heart.” Isabel Bate, now 18, has been “co-leading” LBGTQ +Kickback for nearly three years. This youth-led organization really knows how to provide “a safe, inclusive space” which is captured in this video.
  • Youth organizing work is multi-faceted…“focusing on restorative justice which includes probation, mentoring, community service rather than the punitive system,” explains Montrel Morrison. He co-founded the annual NAACP Juvenile Justice Expo at Southern Connecticut State University and currently mentors and coaches young people.
  • “Personal outreach is what builds a movement rather than relying only on flyers and social media,” explains Carolina Bortolleto, co-founder of CT Students for a Dream. Sharing stories about being “undocumented and unafraid” gives courage to others and now immigrant youth–not only adults–are testifying and meeting with state legislators.
  • Invite and include individual youth by encouraging them to contribute their artistic talents like creating spoken word, chants or banners.
  • “The rising of a powerful generation,” Jeremy’s tag line, means adult allies need to listen more rather than always lead.

To draw further inspiration and ideas on community organizing, I recommend When We Fight We Win! Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World by Greg Jobin-Leeds and AgitArte.