Students have a great deal to say and invaluable insight to offer. They often understand the challenges they face better than adults. We are learning that students are more than willing to share if adults are intentional about creating space for student voice. Empowering student voice is an essential step in understanding how to best serve students. Helping every student succeed means embracing the diversity of our students and educating with a lens of equity as a driving force.
“Equity is at the core of everything we do in Clover Park,” said Superintendent Ron Banner. “As we are working to identify the needs of our students across differences, a focus on inclusion has driven us to elevate student voice.”
In October, a group of Clover Park High School students gathered for lunch one day. The students represented a cross section of their school with varying degrees of academic achievement, participation and learning abilities.
It was a group of students that doesn’t typically eat together, but as they shared a meal, they talked.
At the center of the conversation was Superintendent Banner. He wasn’t saying much. Instead, he was listening. He wanted to know more about the challenges students were facing and the obstacles getting in their way in and out of the classroom.
Banner believes hearing from students is essential to effectively leading a district. As a result, he has intentionally created time and space to listen. His October meeting with Clover Park High School students was the first of many similar meetings to come. He met with Harrison Prep students a couple weeks later and Lakes High School students in November. He plans to meet with these groups at each school three more times this year.
“We want our students to graduate ready to contribute to their community,” Banner said. “By giving them space for student voice, it not only lets us better understand their needs, but it also gives them the chance to learn how to lead in their community during the school day.”
The district hired Grant Twyman this year in a new position as equity, diversity and inclusion specialist. Building bridges within the community to elevate student voice is one of the core priorities of his work in the district.
“The concept of equity has to affirm differences, identify needs of different people and collaboratively address those needs,” Twyman said. “If we’re going to do this well, we need to consistently create space for student voice.”
In addition to high school students sharing a meal with the superintendent, the district is hosting teen summits on specific topics throughout the year. The teen summits provide unique opportunities to hear student voice in collaboration with community partners like the Lakewood Police Department and the Lakewood Multicultural Coalition.
The district held its first teen summit on suicide prevention and intervention in late October. Students from each high school gathered to learn about the facts on the issue, discuss their experiences and share their perspectives and possible solutions.
Another series of teen summits, called “Connecting Cops and Students,” included eighth grade-students from each middle school. It was a student-led conversation that facilitated community engagement, bridge building and partnership between students and local law enforcement.
“What I’m hoping will happen as we continue our efforts in this area is that students will see that their voice matters,” Twyman said. “They can share their perspectives and start to see changes in the district based on the feedback they provide.”