Eight incredible student leaders joined in conversation with Secretary John King and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives (DAS), Ary Amerikaner on November 16th, 2016. Students shared their experiences in well-rounded education programs in their own schools, and why these types of programs are important. Student input drove the conversation, as Secretary King and Deputy Assistant Secretary Amerikaner discussed how these students’ experience can help us here at ED support schools and communities as we work to implement ESSA. The session allowed students to discuss issues of funding and inadequate resources that typically bar school districts from implementing or expanding well-rounded education programs. Most importantly, all were able to discuss concrete goals as they continue their work to provide a quality and rigorous educational experience for students across the country.
The student group ran the gamut from well-rounded education programs that included local committees on education and curriculum, expansion of arts and culture programming, and social justice initiatives for youth. Donovan Taveras from Brooklyn, NY addressed the inequality and prejudice present in his school community. These injustices interfered with the students’ academic experience and created a school environment not conducive to learning. Donovan felt compelled to speak out to right the wrongs of his school community. He campaigned for his school’s first Gay Straight Alliance organization to rid school districts of heavy policing and work toward the desegregation of all schools.
Like Donovan, all students in attendance had a unique story about how they have taken the initiative to voice their concerns about the popular opinions of their schools and surrounding communities. For many, these voices were found through their well-rounded education programs, as a result of empowering and supportive teacher mentors.
Bethany Forbes and Suni Lesu attend Vista High School in California. “Exploring passions allows students to apply what they are learning to the world around them,” the two explained. They’ve used this sentiment to discuss issues close to their hearts, especially standardized testing. Bethany and Suni remain unconvinced that standardized tests are indicators of a student’s success, as they don’t really assess creativity and innovation, two qualities the two students see as being integral to success in the modern world. The Student Voices Session provided an outlet for Bethany and Suni to voice their concerns to two powerful and influential leaders in the field of education. This in and of itself was empowering to Bethany and Suni, as well as the other student leaders at the table.
In a similar fashion, Aszana Lopez-Bell identified the gap in her social studies curriculum regarding cultural competence. Aszana asserted that topics of importance or relevance to modern society are largely ignored from the social studies curriculum. She initiated the Culture Club at the Baltimore School for the Arts that encourage students to be more aware of the world around them.
As student leaders, they continue to be peer mentors and resources for their classmates, as they truly feel it is their responsibility to shape the world they live in. These students’ achievements offer great input to national education leaders in their quest to provide for America’s students in the implementation of education policy.
This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices series at the Department through which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.
Emily Surman, American University, OCO intern and Samuel Ryan, Youth Liaison, OCO