Student Voice: Powerful Force for Change

Student Voice

Kudos to the Washington State Board of Education for hosting a recent panel of students on the topic of Modern Day Racism in Education. Here are some of the ideas that students shared:


“We hear a lot of numbers, a lot of data, pretty words like equity and equal access.  We need to humanize those numbers.  The numbers don’t give us proximity to the the pain, the stories of what students are feeling every day in classrooms.” – Margarita Amezcua

What is equity? 

“I see equity as having the resources to make sure everyone can be successful, but also taking the extra steps to make sure those resources get to the ones who need it most…” – AJ Lopez

  • You get what you need – more help – not just what is “equal”
  • Provide more support, stepping-stones, for those who need it most
  • Remove the barriers and obstacles
  • Create advocacy and inclusion for us
  • Help for the students who struggle so much
  • Mental health; we have only 4 counselors for 2000 students

Get to know us

“We need to be more open about education and not be so white-washed. At the end of the day, students are facing discrimination based on the color of their eyes…” – Shafaq Buttar

  • Don’t group and label students
  • See us as individuals … some need help; some need opportunities
  • Don’t assume you know best … give us choice … voice
  • Tell us about college opportunities
  • Listen first before giving us advice
  • See us as humans; allow us to be less than perfect
  • Don’t assume we will ask for help; give us a place to speak up
  • Counselors are assigned by rote without any understanding of who we are

Listen to us  

Students are trying to tell educators that we see what is wrong with our system.  We want to humanize our experience – to say this is what happens to us every day of our life.”  – Margarita Amezcua

  • Give us a way to interact with school board; give us more than vague responses
  • ASB does not give us voice; they avoid making whites uncomfortable
  • Engage with us; let us advocate
  • Give us a seat, a voice, at the table; listen; act
  • The more you engage us the more we will want to do well
  • We are marginalized; not listened to
  • Implicit bias in teachers; help them be more open to different needs
  • Racial equity training; addressing micro-aggression
  • More teachers like me; our teachers are all white

Value Us … Value our Culture

“Our curriculum and the stories we tell through them should be both a mirror and a window. We should be able to see our own experiences mirrored in our education, but also have a window into the experiences of other students unlike ourselves.” – Alicia Ing

  • Teach from a young age the beauty of all cultures
  • Invite leaders of color from the community in
  • We should be able to see ourselves in history; colonization is all we see
  • Tell both sides history not just the white view
  • Need everyone to know we are all different
  • There is strength and empowerment in learning your culture
  • Help students understand history of oppression; don’t just white-wash history
  • Once a year we are told that MLK Jr solved racism; but ignored the rest of the year

Walk the talk 

Our school is all talk … no show

  • We see teachers and students acting in racist ways and nothing happens
  • We see racist students being selected for honors and awards
  • We have protocols but ignore the problems
  • We shut our eyes and allow students to be alienated, traumatized, marginalized

What do students in your school say?

Create spaces to hear from students.  They live their reality all day every day.  Listen … and then take action.  Our students can tell what stands in the way of racial equity.

What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius


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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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