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Why Student Voices Matter

Photo courtesy of Claire Faulkner

Back to Skills

Here’s why I attended this year’s Education Writers Association National Seminar: As a high school student, I wanted to gain a new perspective on public schools and what is being done to improve them. And as an aspiring journalist, I was hoping to learn more about news coverage of education and why it is so important.

I attended many sessions over the course of the three-day event, but the session that stood out to me and that I continue to think about months later is Students At Center Stage. 

The 90-minute presentation featured seven students and two teachers who discussed their unique learning opportunities and experiences with student-centered learning, as well as their opinions on traditional-style learning and what they want reporters to know about real-world schools. Being one of the few teenagers at the EWA conference in Boston, I enjoyed hearing the views of professionals and adults. But I also appreciated that a session was made to showcase the voices of students as well.

This fall, I will be a junior at the Journalism and Media Academy Magnet School (JMA) in Hartford, Connecticut. JMA is a themed magnet high school, open to students living in Hartford and the surrounding suburban towns, that provides students with classes on journalism and media, in addition to traditional academic subjects. Like many of the students who spoke during the Students At Center Stage session, I could have attended my hometown’s public school, but I decided to look elsewhere for a more specialized and, ideally, more meaningful education. Because I share this connection with many of the students who spoke that day, I was able to relate to their experiences and realize how much power student voices have to make a change.

Many of the students talked about student-centered learning, an instructional model that challenges the traditional classroom structure and allows students to collaborate with educators to build their curriculum around topics that interest them. My school is in the process of integrating student-centered learning into the classroom, so it was exciting to hear about the opportunities it has provided for these students to explore and pursue their passions, gain real-world experience, and make a difference in their communities.

Presenter Jodie Woodruff, an educator at the MET School in Providence, Rhode Island, summarized the value of student-centered learning best by stating, “When students are at the center of learning, they’re truly engaged and challenge themselves. It makes the learning authentic and it makes it pretty relevant.”

When students are encouraged to think and learn outside of the box, not only do they become more involved in their education, but they have a learning experience that creates change.

The Students At Center Stage session also reinforced the notion that learning can be accomplished in many different ways. Although most schools in America gauge student progress with standardized tests, several of the students who spoke were able to display their progress in ways that were far more meaningful.

“There is no one shade of success,” Trinidad Ramikssoon, a student from the Boston Day & Evening Academy, told the EWA audience. “However, there are many ways to measure one’s greatness. And student-centered learning understands that need.” (You can watch videos of all nine presenters here.)

Hearing from students who have interned at major companies, helped to draft legislation, performed on Broadway, and created an app to educate students about their civil rights impressed me much more than hearing about students who simply had high test scores.

Using tests to measure students’ progress isn’t always going to work. Learning from a textbook and a lecture isn’t always going to work. The people who can best demonstrate this is the students themselves. The Students At Center Stage session made me realize that students can also inspire the change that they require.

As a rising high school junior, it was inspiring for me to hear other students my age talk about their experiences in education and what makes them excited to get up and go to school every day. It was interesting to learn more about the practicalities of student-centered learning and what students think of traditional learning.

But the most important thing I learned from the discussion is that students have more power than they might think. Those seven students were brave enough to stand up in front of a room full of people and discuss what is working in education and what is not.

The voices and opinions of students are often left out of the conversation when it comes to improving the education system. But not only do we deserve to be a part of that conversation, we are vital to it.