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girl riding a bike on the pages of a history book


84% of high school students want to go to college, but only half think their schools are preparing them for college-level classes.

Source: YouthTruth

Young people’s perspectives, positive or negative, are incredibly important for anyone who’s designing or redesigning a high school. After all, they’re the ones our schools must serve!

Adolescents feel empowered and involved when adults authentically engage them in the decisions that affect their lives. Go out and talk to young people, both inside your local schools and in other places where students get together and learn. A local community center is a really good place to start.

Invite students to reflect on occasions when learning has been deep and rewarding for them. Ask them about experiences that were negative or that they wish had been better or more fulfilling. Ask them about what happened during COVID-related school closures.

Be sure to seek out the opinions of those whose voices aren’t often heard, including students with disabilities, young people who have dropped out of school, and disengaged or struggling students. Their experiences will help you see what’s missing from high school today and what needs to change.

Try asking young people about their vision for the future, the things they care about, their aspirations for themselves and their community, their dream school. Think about their true needs—and how you might inspire them to stretch their ambitions:

  • What kind of future do you see for yourself?
  • What are your life goals?
  • What kind of job or career do you want to pursue?
  • Who are the role models you admire most?
  • Tell me about something you’re really interested in right now.
  • What is something you would love to teach?
  • What impact do you want to have in your community? In the world?
  • How do you define success for yourself?
  • If you could build a school or a learning experience that was specifically designed for how you learn, what would it look like? Sound like? Feel like?
  • How would your dream high school better prepare you for college or career?

For more questions like these, see the XQ Youth Voice Cards.

Download the XQ Youth Voice Cards

Dive Deep

  1. a student looking forward
    Degrees of Youth Participation

    We can learn from young people in a range of ways. UNICEF shares a visual describing the eight levels of youth participation, from nonparticipation to child-initiated decision-making.

  2. hands using a computer
    Just Ask the Students

    The Future Project asked NYC high school students how they'd change high school. Here's what they said.

  3. a microphone
    Move School Forward

    This campaign led by Student Voice—a national, student-led nonprofit—amplifies the voices of students in school reopening plans and beyond.

  4. a student reading
    Remote and Hybrid Learning: How Well Are You Doing?

    XQ created this tool to help students and educators work together to put student experience at the forefront of school reopening plans.

Download the Insights from Students Worksheet