Our kids have tried to wake us up before
In 2014, after Michael Brown was tragically shot and killed in Ferguson, MO, area students were yearning for a constructive outlet to voice concerns. However, for those who were listening, their voices were calling out about more than one tragic incident. The voices were calling about race, yes. Equality, yes. Acceptance and safety, yes.
Days after the first protest erupted, I founded a program called Gateway2change. Working with leaders across St. Louis, we defined the mission of empowering students across the community to connect to address difficult societal issues like race and take positive, forward-thinking action together. With hundreds of students from dozens of schools participating in student summits on race, the students began to create action projects to bring peace to the community. As caring adults, we worked with intentionality to create open the space and conditions for students to thrive. All that we created was the space. The conditions. Soon, student leader like Jaylen Bledsoe, Khaila Jones, Nina Miskovic and Shawn Filer and hundreds more took over. The movement was theirs. A few months later, students received attention from the White House, were invited to speak in Washington D.C. and began scaling their program to other cities like Rochester NY and Buffalo NY where the program flourishes today.
Many talented educational leaders across our country, in charge of many initiatives and successful projects, were never taught how to create the conditions to empower youth in trying times. Yet, we want to help. Based on my experience founding Gateway2change and learning from students as they took the student voice success nationally, I learned a lot. Below are the Five Steps To Empower Student Voice. (You can download a free poster below) Instead of eschewing student drive, these steps can help youth usher their energy and strengths in constructive directions. As educators, community leaders and caring parents, you can use these steps to empower student voice around different topics to help them MULTIPLY their positive impact.
1. Self-Care and Wellness
2. Norms for Courageous Conversations
3. Identify and Connect Strengths
4. Envision a New Reality Together
5. Create Systems and Supports for Sustained Change
To read more of Drew Schwartz' article and download the "Five Steps to Empower Student Voice" poster, please click here.