As the school year started in earnest, UP Faculty Ana Lindert-Boyes, Maisie Franke, and Lindsey Halman traveled to Wilmington, DE, to begin year two of UP’s work with the Brandywine School District (BSD) project to Elevate and Empower Student Voice. This day-long retreat and facilitation training for the core youth-adult leadership team prepared them to take the learnings from last year and bring them to a larger group.
UP first connected with BSD in 2020. The Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) had created the Equity Education Framework: Strategic Intent 1.0 Elevate and Empower Student Voice with a commitment to centering student voice to ensure equitable access to education. The goal was to find schools, school districts and communities exemplifying student voice in action to guide establishing, sustaining, and scaling effective student voice practices in Delaware. Through ongoing dialogue with the DDOE’s Office of Equity and Innovation, they connected UP with our current partners in BSD to pilot this project. This school year will see recruitment of a larger team of youth and more data collection on how and where to add student voice.
The dynamic youth-adult team brings together youth from each of three district high schools and includes adults who are district leaders in BSD. The goal of this first retreat was to create connections, build relationships, explore leadership and provide facilitation training for the BSD youth leaders. Their next task, discussed during their biweekly meetings, will be strategies and timelines for recruiting a larger group from each of the three high schools to become the “Student Voice Advisory.”
Ana and Maisie work with UP as Youth Program Specialists. Ana described how it felt to take UP work’s outside of Vermont: “One thing that was so interesting, in Delaware, school choice and charter schools are more abundant and more accessible. They also have a different way of tracking students – they have AP, Honors, and everyone else is in College Prep. But in talking to the youth there are clear problems that also show up in Vermont schools – the lack of youth-adult partnership, teachers not listening to youth and no youth voice in areas such as curriculum development; there are some universal educational pieces. We were also able to make personal connections in smaller spaces, just talking about regular subjects like drivers ed, our jobs, and families.”
During the retreat, the team first agreed on core values and established norms for their meetings. From there, they moved to “what does student voice mean to you.” Responses include:
- Providing a different perspective on different topics
- Accepting confrontation, compromising, and moving forward
- Questioning and talking about power dynamics
- All students being given the opportunity to be heard and listened to
- Seeing student opinions in decisions
Talking about the who, what, why for how to design the Student Voice Advisory, the group discussion centered on these needs:
- More diverse perspectives
- More opportunities to collaborate
- More trust in students by adults, more outreach and more connections and better relationships needed first
- Clear vision that is communicated by the group enthusiastically and clearly
The next steps include three full day retreats – October, January, and March – that will be for the newly formed Student Voice Advisory. This group will conduct research into school climate and issues of student voice and equity before developing BSD’s vision for Student Voice and an action plan to implement this vision. Throughout the process, the Student Voice Advisory will share their findings for feedback through a series of community dialogue events.
Ana, Lindsey, and Maisie travel to Delaware in October for the first Student Voice Advisory retreat with approximately 60 youth, and adult partners, from each of BSD’s high schools.
Ana expressed confidence in the team and the process, “It was a nice space – everyone wanted to be there and was ready to do the work.”