Have you heard of the Rachel Maddow show? What about the Washington Post? We’re sure you have, and those are just two of the places the Prichard Committee’s Student Voice Team has been featured. They found themselves gaining national media attention after introducing a bill to the Kentucky State Legislature that would have given students the opportunity to hold a voting seat on the board that elects school system superintendents. Despite the fact that their bill was struck down, due to the addition of two controversial amendments, the group’s actions are one of the best examples of students advocating for their education in our country.
After speaking with their adult director, Rachel Belin, we were invited to attend the Prichard Committee’s Student Voice Team’s Retreat in Lexington, Kentucky. Around half of the students attending were new members to the group, so the retreat also served as an orientation. We had the opportunity to learn about the group’s mission, history, and future plans. Learning from their experiences, and especially their formative period, gave us so much to take back home to Chattanooga.
The day started with a slideshow about the Prichard Committee’s work in addition to the Student Voice Team’s efforts to include students in their education. The day consisted of presentations and workshops, primarily led by the high school students. One of the things that really caught our attention, was when a student spoke about their work and said “It was my first time seeing students take a stand.” Despite the fact that students make up 100% of a school system’s constituents, we so rarely have the opportunity to work alongside adults as partners in our education, rather than mere recipients.
While the issues students face in Kentucky are different from the issues here in Hamilton County, we all share a passion for student voice. The Student Voice Team pushed for legislation that would allow a student to be a voting member on the panels that select the superintendents for school districts. Here, we hope to create avenues for students to be directly involved in the decisions that affect us. That could like having a strong group, such as a Student Government Association, in every school. It could also mean publicizing that there is a student on the school board, and that the superintendent has a student advisory committee, and allowing students to apply to participate, in place of being selected by a principal.
The second major lesson we learned from attending the retreat, is one related to accessibility: how do we make our group accessible to all students? While the Student Voice Team has a harder job when it comes to this, considering they are a statewide organization, the answer is a bit more simple for our group. In addition to providing transportation to and from events, it means plugging into local communities and engaging with students where they are. Much like the school board, as student organizers, we should work for and with students, not the other way around.
We are currently working to form a Student Voice Team, and we want you to get involved! If you want to help change public education for the better, you can start by filling out our short survey, which will also give you a chance to win one of two $25 Visa gift cards. At the end, you can choose to learn more, and we’ll reach out to you about getting involved in student roundtables, our group, and more. We hope to hear from you soon!