5 Resources for Amplifying Student Voices and Experiences

To rethink high school, we must create space for student voice. Here are 5 resources for you to use in your classroom this week.

By Team XQ

The goal of our education system is to educate and prepare our students for life, citizenship, college, career, and more. Students know better than anyone what’s working in the classroom— and what’s not. To rethink high school and provide a high-quality education for all students, we must encourage student advocacy and listen to and amplify the voices of students.

This week, we’re focusing on youth voice and choice, one of the XQ design principles. By giving students the opportunities to build their identities as learners and develop the capacity for agency, we help them create their paths to success. In this issue, we compiled five examples of how students use their voices to share their high school experiences and create change in their communities.

Students talk about civic engagement and what it really means.

Why it matters: For many, civic engagement is often associated with politics and elections, but we often forget that civic engagement encompasses so much more. At its core, civics is about empowering anyone to make a difference in their community. 

High school student Simone St. Pierre Nelson spoke to Balqies Mohamed, a youth leader and organizer for Portland Empowered, about civic engagement within their school communities. Balqies and other students offered some tips for how students can get involved:

  • Working with a local organization or religious groups
  • Contacting local, state, and national representatives
  • Planning and attending town halls
  • Posting signs and flyers
  • Supporting community bail funds
  • Connecting with your local school board members
  • Protesting against issues

Listen to the full interview and teacher guide!

Extra credit: Students Speak Out – Civic Engagement with Balqies Mohamed

After months of remote and hybrid learning, students identify common problems and share how their schools can better meet their needs during the pandemic.

Why it matters: COVID-19 school closures threw educators and students a curveball. A survey of 20,000 students reported that only 39% of students said they learned a lot every day while learning remotely. 

What’s working for students? What isn’t working? What changes do they want to see? Here are their insights:

  • Maintain social distancing and require masks
  • Ensure virtual students have the same opportunities as in-person students
  • Make antiracism part of the curriculum
  • Assign less work, but make it more meaningful

Extra credit: How to improve schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to students

Image Credit: Magdalena Slapik for The Hechinger Report

This teenager was embarrassed that her family collected cans, but she now admires their hard work.

Why it matters: From sunup to sundown, Jessica’s parents collected cans and bottles for a living. After trying to keep it a secret for years, she finally shared her story in an essay. Thanks to the support of her peers, Jessica’s attitude about her family’s work changed entirely. She understands that her parents’ can collecting:

  • Supports her and her needs
  • Unites her family
  • Teaches her the value of hard work
  • Represents her family’s strong values
  • Helps her fulfill her dream of going to college

Extra credit: My Parents Collect Bottles for a Living

These teens balance long work hours and virtual classes to help their families get by during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are facing income loss and financial stress. Many teens across the country are stepping up and taking on extra work hours (even up to 40 hours a week) to help support their families— while attending their online classes.

Here are just a few of their stories:

  • Kashish Bastola, an 11th grader, works at his dad’s restaurant while listening to his classes in his headphones.
  • Erica Arvizu, a 12th grader, works nine hours a day at her family’s floral business and attends class in between creating arrangements.
  • Johanna Lopez, a 12th grader works at a fast-food restaurant to help her mother pay rent on the family home.
  • Carlos Martinez, an 11th grader,  works 40 hours a week to help support his family after his mom lost her job.

“Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do for your family.” 

Extra credit:  ‘I Had No Other Option.’ Teens Balance Zoom Classes and Fast-Food Jobs — Sometimes at the Same Time — to Support Struggling Families

Image Credit: Kashish Bastola

Students are making their voices heard. They are articulating the changes they want to see in their classrooms and schools.

Why it matters: Amid nationwide protests against racial injustice, students across the country are petitioning their local governments and school boards to implement curriculum changes. Students are now urging districts to consider curricular materials that are actively anti-racist & demonstrate diverse representation.

Major curriculum changes can be tricky, so students are looking to start smaller to create a gradual impact with:

  • More diverse texts and reading materials
  • Ethnic studies programs
  • Curriculums highlighting underrepresented groups

Here’s how students can get involved:

  • Writing and signing online petitions
  • Creating email templates to send to school boards and community leaders
  • Participating in panels and school board meetings

Extra credit: Student activists want change—and they’re starting in the classroom

Image Credit: Alliyah Logan

Arts education is vital for students. Art plays a huge role in building student voice by helping students learn to express emotions and voice issues close to their hearts. 

This is why we created our first XQ Challenge centering on the intermingling of Music and Activism. Students learned from hip hop and R&B quartet SOL Development and created an original song or lyric that touches on issues important to them. Challenges submissions are closed, and now it’s time to listen and vote!

Don’t forget to create an account for our new digital content site and online community, Rethink Together. Here, you’ll find feature articles, videos, a discussion forum, student challenges, and more!