Young Voices has successfully replicated a model that supports students to work with adults to improve their schools. The best practices of this model have been honed and we are ready to share it with partners in New England and across the country.
Since 2010, Young Voices has been supporting students to have an authentic voice in the redesign of their high schools. Youth survey a majority of their peers at their school, and lead focus groups, asking them what should be done to increase graduation and attendance rates. They use this data to create policy recommendations to make their schools more student-centered places that effectively engage students, and work closely with school leaders to implement these policies.
Young Voices first implemented this model at Central Falls High School. Since then, the model has been successfully replicated at three low-performing Rhode Island schools: Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex (JSEC) and Alvarez High School in Providence, and Tolman High School in Pawtucket.
For more than 4 years, Young Voices has supported students at JSEC to have a significant role in improving their school. Youth have met monthly with the principal, advocating for new grading policies, a revised class schedule, more student centered, hands-on learning practices, and improved discipline practices. They also sat on school decision-making committees like the Data Committee and Climate and Culture Committee, working alongside the principal and teachers to improve the school. Their work has resulted in concrete change, including: new grading policies; a class schedule with more options to choose classes of interest; and a biotech program with hands-on exposure to the biotech industry.
Currently the youth are working with the principal to improve discipline practices by bringing restorative justice to the school. The principal, Michaela Keegan says: “I was skeptical of transitioning to the use of restorative practices, because I didn’t know much about it. However, the students gently persisted and always supported their wish to use restorative practices with evidence, data and student voice. They helped me be more confident in exploring this unknown but obviously needed approach to building community.”