Student and Youth Voice: Asking, Listening, and Taking Action



Discussion Starters/Surveys

NYC Students Weave Student Voice into the Fabric of Their Schools (2013)
The NYC Department of Education calls its approach to ranking public schools “hard-nosed accountability,” says Avaris, a senior at Vanguard High School in Manhattan. But to Aravis and her peers in the Student Voice Collaborative (SVC), this approach overlooks a crucial factor in the accountability equation: the experience of students themselves. SVC students, and their coordinator, Ari Sussman, have much to say about student voice.

Youth Converts Culture (2012)
“Just look at us. We live in the poorest county in the state, we don’t have the best of technology, but we as children know we have the ability to make change," says Jonathan, a rising senior in Perry County, Alabama. This July, Jonathan and 26 classmates spent a week at a one-of-a-kind summer camp, reflecting on who they are, where they're from, where they're headed, and what stands in their way -- and sharing their thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and more.

Great Expectations . . . Or Not  (2012)
Students know when a teacher is on their side, when she or he believes they'll amount to something. Teachers know, too, when they've given a student a boost or, sadly, knocked a student down. Everyday, the delicate but powerful dance of expectations infuses teaching and learning in classrooms nationwide. The past school year, Youth and Adults Transforming School Together (YATST) partnered with the Vermont Department of Education and WKCD to examine this dance and create new steps. Adult-student teams in four Vermont schoolsjoined “Great Expectations…or Not?" initiative with the goal of sparking dialogue within their individual school community on the impact of expectations on student achievement.

Youth as Knowledge Creators (2011)
When WKCD made its online debut in 2001, we had one goal: to champion what we called “powerful learning with public purpose” by this nation’s adolescents. In the years since, we have spread our wings. Our work with young people now covers four continents. We started our own nonprofit book publishing company, producing two or three new titles each year with youth as collaborators. We have also been a grantmaker, supporting action research and media creation by young people aged 10 to 22. While our portfolio has grown, our mission remains the same. Day in and out, WKCD presses before the broadest audience possible the power of what young people can accomplish when given the opportunities and supports they need and what they can contribute when we take their voices and ideas seriously. The WKCD website (this website!) now includes thousands of pages. We have produced close to 300 feature stories that present young people's lives, learning, and work, and their partnerships with adults both in and out of school. We have created special collections that range from gathering the voices of middle-schoolers to honoring mentors that matter in the lives to teens. We have supported, financially and technically, over 75 projects that nurture youth as citizen journalists, from the Bronx to Beijing. Some say has the largest online collection of high quality, diverse student work in the world. Here we launch a new WKCD collection: small but strong examples of U.S. high school students, with the support of adult allies, acting as knowledge creators. Among today's calls for proficiency-based learning, the stories and student products we share are, we hope, both illustrative and inspiring. We have chosen work that not only engages youth in high level tasks, but also demands that they make meaning out of the information they gather—and then make a difference.

Suspension Stories: Young Activists Challenge the “School-to-Prison” Pipeline (2011)

"He who opens a school door closes a prison,” Victor Hugo wrote in his 19th-century masterpiece, Les Miserables. Yet in today’s United States, students as young as six years old are being suspended, expelled, and even arrested at school for matters that once were handled by a phone call home. And increasingly, activist youth and adults are questioning why the school doors are closing on these 21st-century “miserables” just when they most need to learn. The “school-to-prison pipeline,” a term coined by youth advocates almost a decade ago, is still going strong, due in large part to “zero tolerance” policies. Now a remarkable website started by a group of young Chicago activists—all women between the ages of 12 and 22—is collecting the personal stories of such students in print, video, and audio and combining them with survey research, popular education, art, and more.

Bringing Chicago's Public Schools into the 20th Century (2010)

In March 2009, WKCD wrote about the involvement of students from Chicago’s Mikva Challenge in citywide policy discussions about improving school safety. The youth sent a clear message: they want to be part of bringing positive change to Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In October 2010, Mikva Challenge youth issued a new report that’s turning heads—on how CPS needs to overhaul its technology policy to catch up with the 21st Century

Youth and Adults Transforming School Together (2010)

On a crisp fall weekend, 165 youth and adults from high schools throughout Vermont pack a large, renovated barn on the campus of Goddard College. They have gathered to “Be the Buzz”: to speak up, dig deep, and work together for school transformation in their schools and across the state .“This is what real youth–adult partnership looks like,” one teacher remarks. A student adds, “And what school change sounds like.” Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together (YATST) grew from frustration and opportunity. For years, the Vermont Principals Association (VPA) worked statewide to support student councils, hoping without success to increase student engagement in learning. The VPA consulted with the Vermont Department of Education and the Vermont Rural Partnership—each with its own interest in student voice and youth engagement in high school learning—and by 2008 it declared that the time was right to develop “authentic youth-adult school partnerships and collaborative decision-making.”

Best Practices in Summer Learning Programs: A Y-Press Report (2010)
“Summer learning loss” has gained prominence as another hurdle to improving student achievement. WKCD recently asked our partners at the youth-led news bureau Y-Press to investigate best practices in summer learning programs, interviewing experts in the field and students returning to school with summer learning experiences in their backpack. Their piece complements Y-Press alumna Jordan Denari’s “A Camp that Gets the Story.”

Fighting Summer Learning Loss: One City's Story (2010)
One hears a lot these days about "summer learning loss" and its toll on low-income students. This summer WKCD asked Jordan Denari, whom we met three years ago when she was a junior in high school and editor at the Indianapolis youth-led Y-Press, to document her experience leading "City Stories"—a remarkable two-week summer camp in which Y-Press teenagers teach younger students 21st century journalism skills. Denari, now a sophomore at Georgetown University, recorded every aspect of the camp's unfolding, producing a powerful feature story and two videos.

Our Schools, Our Future: San Francisco Youth Campaign for Equitable College Access (2009)

For almost a year, a group of San Francisco youth--members of the city's Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth--campaigned to convince the SF Board of Education to make the "A through G" curriculum the default curriculum for all students in the San Francisco public schools. "A through G" is the required curriculum for California students seeking entrance to the state's colleges and universities. This WKCD feature story and audioslideshow documents the last day of these youth's successful campaign. On May 26, 2009, the San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt "A through G," saying every student in the district deserved a fair chance at college, regardless of the color of their skin or income.

Having a Say: Youth and Educational Activism (2009)
Ever since school was made compulsory for American children in the early 20th century, efforts at reform rarely included input from youth. But that is changing, as policymakers are beginning to value the opinions of youth, and as youth themselves have realized their collective power through new networking media. Ten years ago, it was hard for young people, or adults even, to know whom to lobby, to find which elected officials, let alone to figure out how to contact them.

History You Can Touch(2009)
“I’ll be talking about courage and Common Sense with Thomas Paine,” begins Carriola Chambers, 16, as she steels her nerves. It’s presentation day at Facing History School (FHS) in mid-Manhattan and students like Carriola are demonstrating to small panels of teachers and peers how they have advanced their “habits of learning” over the quarter. There’s a passion for self-discovery through history at FHS that you won’t find at any other school.

The Big Score: Chicago High School Students Debate College Admission Tests (2008)
For students at Chicago’s Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF), the buzz surrounding college preparation is intense. The school sends almost 90 percent of its graduates to college. In January 2008, WKCD sat down with five OPRF students to talk about how they judge intelligence, and their experiences with standardized tests.

Michigan Special Needs Students Find Their Stride (2007)
Between finding your way to your locker, passing your classes, and avoiding those intimidating upperclassmen, freshman year of high school is tough for almost everyone. Add special needs or disabilities to that equation and the difficulties can grow exponentially. But for special needs students at Haslett High School, a program called Freshman Focus is giving them a leg up.

Restoring Hope Where It's All but Gone (2006)
Students enrolled in Indianapolis public high schools face hard truths everyday. Indianapolis has the fifth worst graduation rate in the country; only 25 percent of black males earn a high school diploma. Student research teams at all five of the city's high schools have studied the problems and are adding their voice to the district's redesign effort.

Hear Us Out: Advice from Students for School Leaders (2005)
If you are a high school principal, your students want to have a word with you. Last year, WKCD spent six months collecting perspectives on school leadership from 65 high school students nationwide. In a new book, Sent to the Principal: Students Talk About Making High Schools Better, teenagers shares their insights on a range of issues.

Youth United for Change Takes on Philadelphia’s Public Schools (2005)

On a mid-February afternoon, 35 students from the small schools housed in Kensington High School in north Philadelphia gather around a table in their meager school library. Most came because they saw a flier advertising free pizza at a meeting of an organization called Youth United for Change. But it soon becomes clear that this meeting is about much more than an after-school snack. As Youth United for Change (YUC) Executive Director and Organizer Andi Perez explains to the new recruits, they have a chance to get involved in a campaign to remedy the systemic inequalities in the Philadelphia public schools—inequalities that place them, as students of color in a rough area of the city, at a disadvantage.

We Are Change (2005)
With a video camera to her eye, Alice Giaccone, 18, moves through a buzzing high school hallway at lunchtime. She poses the same question to each person she stops: “What do you think of high school redesign?” Alice, along with seven other “youth mobilizers,” spent the past year documenting what young people want—and don’t want—from their high schools in Austin, TX.

Reflections on What Works: A Group of Teenage Classroom Observers Raises the Bar for Teachers (2005)
At Lexington High School, a large suburban high school outside Boston, a dedicated crew of teenaged students is visiting classrooms with an innovative vision of student-teacher dialogue. They go into classrooms not to learn what is being taught, but to look at how it is being taught, and to create a dialogue about effective teaching and learning.

Tough Talk about Student Responsibility: Growing Student Leaders in Oakland, CA (2004)
Several years ago at Oakland Tech High School Darrick Smith began a program called TryUMF (for Try and Uplift My Folks), a leadership class any student can take and re-take. Smith makes fierce academic and social demands on students, but they pay off. Recently WKCD interviewed Smith and his students about their push for responsibility.

Young Filmmakers Turn Their Cameras on Their Schools (2004)
What makes a teacher worth paying attention to? What makes a school worth going to? Listen Up!, a network of 60 youth media organizations nationwide, invited ten youth production teams to answer these questions. See clips from their films.

The Color of Learning: Youth Researchers Tackle the Legacy of Brown (2004)
For three years, one hundred inner city and suburban youth researchers and their adult partners at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York have studied how race influences learning in schools across America. Here we present some of the fruits of their extraordinary work.

The Color of Teaching: In a Small Black School, Students Fight for Their Faculty (2004)
Nationally, urban schools struggle to recruit minority teachers. In the rural, African-American community of Camp Hill, Alabama, students struggle with a county decision to replace a third of their school’s black teachers with white teachers.

From: High School Students To: The Next President  (2004)
Dear Future President: I am nineteen years old and I have lived in Harlem all my life. This past year, I got my G.E.D., and I’m about to start college at Cooper Union in New York City. I work several jobs to raise the money I’ll need to live on. I can talk like an educated person, and I can talk like the kids on the street. You would probably point to me as a success story. But you wouldn’t have much idea of what got me here. Maybe you should....Read letters by two WKCD student authors on what we can do about the real crisis in public education—part of a new book published by Teachers College Press.

Youth Organizers Mobilize to Change their World, Starting with School  (2003)
This special collection features two experienced youth organizing groups—East Los Angeles’ Youth Organizing Communities and the Bronx's Sistas and Brothas United—working to improve their schools, an interview with a veteran youth activist, and an annotated directory of student groups involved in school reform.)

Students Push for Equity in School Funding (2003)
Nationwide, schools face drastic reductions in programs, teachers, and services. Here we capture the triumphs, defeats, and voices of Alabama students fighting to save their small school from consolidation, Ohio students rallying at their state’s capitol against funding inequities, and a government class in Poughkeepsie, NY throwing itself into that district’s school budget deliberations.

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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

– Deborah Meier, educator