Students speak out for change in their school
Give high school students two hours and they just might change the world - or at least the culture of their school. That was the premise behind a recent Voices of Change Student Conference held at Stillwater Area High School.
Nearly 130 students gathered virtually on a Friday morning to talk openly about the challenges they face, or have faced, in their educational career. The first-of-its kind conference was student-led and facilitated, and gave kids a safe place to talk about the issues they see in their school - from racism and institutional bias to inequitable access to resources and activities. Students of different backgrounds, cultures, races, and religions met in small and large groups to share ideas and develop solutions to address issues they are facing in their school.
“It means everything,” said a senior student, who served as a table leader during the conference. “It’s so great to see these things are being brought up and finally there is a change that is happening in the Stillwater Area High School. We are being heard and people are listening. It is much needed and so relieving to finally have people listen.”
During the conversations students tackled big issues in a solutions-focused way. They talked about how access to resources and activities at the school is often dependent on a students’ socioeconomic status. They talked about how the district’s Gifted and Talented program is made up of mostly students who are white and doesn’t seem accessible to students of color. They discussed the need to have a more diverse staff so students can see teachers who look like them. They also talked about giving students at the school more voice and about the need to make the school environment more inclusive and respectful.
“The conference went great,” said Cornelius Rish, the district’s cultural liaison who helped support the conference. “A lot of our kids have been yearning for the opportunity to be heard. And not only the opportunity to be heard, but knowing there is going to be follow up action to it. The feedback from kids has been tremendous.”
The ideas and solutions gathered during the conference will be shared with district leaders and the school board as recommendations to create an equitable education, improve school culture and allow students to access all the resources the Stillwater area schools have to offer.
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