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Student Voice: The Heart of Radical Transformation

In 2013 – the voices of young ppl were left out of California’s LCFF. This oversight set off a 7-month campaign led by hundreds of young people of color staging direct actions and conversations with State Board of Education members about the importance of Student Voice.

By Asher Ki

Decades ago, student voice was a concept very few had the luxury of understanding. The idea that youth are illustrators of change and contributors to the education systems’ transformation was dismissed and purposely overlooked by adults who thought power rested solely in their hands. 

Organizations like Californians For Justice firmly believe transformation is ONLY possible with youth empowerment and voice. Investing time and resources into advocating and addressing the needs for students to be seen as real partners with real decision making power every day, moment and opportunity. The education system was constructed on outdated principles rooted in white supremacist values, injustice and dehumanizing ways of thinking and learning. For many, Covid was the moment of realization that something is terribly wrong with the way education has been done. Folks are ready to rethink and re imagine a student-centered education. 

Enter California’s commitment to Community SchoolsA holistic approach designed to include all stakeholders and center the needs of the most impacted and marginalized communities of color. Community Schools offers an approach centered on a framework of inclusive partnership, equitable decision making and learning as a tool for transformation. These schools shift the scope from criminalization and punishment to the prioritization of principles rooted in care, support, inclusion, belonging, safety and joy.  Relationship centered community schools value the expertise of students and parents alongside educators – adopting a school climate where opportunities for academic advancements are endless, learning opportunities are expanded and the need for mental and physical health supports, social and emotional services, youth and community development and engagement, are foundational for a shared vision of success. 

The community schools framework looks and sounds amazing on paper, but if we put all of our faith in the framework alone, we’d be repeating the same mistakes from decades ago. Ultimately, it is our duty to ensure we are meaningfully engaged as a community. That we are working together to be intentional about doing things differently for the sake of real transformation. Because when we say Student Voice, it’s not only allowing youth the opportunity to speak or share ideas, it’s also encouraging them to be critical leaders in engagement; both structuring what engagement looks like and doing that engagement with their peers. 

On February 9th 2023, the S-TAC (State Transformational Assistance Center for Community Schooling) team which includes Californians for Justice, National Education Association (NEA), UCLA Center for Community Schooling, and the Alameda County Office of Education, hosted a Student Voice webinar for CCSPP (California Community Schools Partnership Program) grantees to learn about the importance of youth voice and action by hearing directly from students, teachers and CFJ’s own Capacity Building Fellows who have mastered the art of student engagement. 

Our panelist uplifted critical pieces of information around the importance of involving, collaborating and leading together with students. It’s not enough to inform our students of decisions made on their behalf or tapping students for input or ideas without the opportunity to  be involved in shaping the solutions. A common theme among panelists was this idea of students being allowed to be the creators and artists of their own futures. Students are the recipe for sustainability. We can have this framework, we can hire more teachers but if we don’t put power directly in the hands of Black, Indigenous, youth of color or bring them into the decision making process, we will never get to the root cause of racial inequities in the system. If we don’t work together closely with students, who are closest to the pain, we can’t get to the heart of the issue and improve conditions so all students can succeed. 

Learn how you can get involved in this transformation work: the S-TAC team will be hosting yet another amazing informative webinar March 9th, come check it out and please feel free to push the invite out to your networks. 

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