Youth Organizing and School Change

Posted by on April 15, 2005

[posted from Public Education Newsblast]


People often complain about students? attitudes about schools. What they fail to realize is that many students feel that these schools do not belong to them — so why should they care? For effective change to happen, write Quintel Byrd and Eric Braxton, students must feel a sense of ownership of their schools. This requires them to have a real voice in decision-making. In the last ten years, youth organizing groups that do exactly that have been springing up across the country. For youth engagement to have a real impact, engagement strategies that are inside and outside of official school structures must be used together. There are several things that make organizing different from internal school district strategies for youth engagement. Typically, student government does not take on the major problems in schools, settling for planning dances or doing community service projects. Adults usually decide which areas of the school are appropriate for these students to be involved in and which are not. When students ask for things in school and the administration says no, they accept that. Even when these groups are supported by adults with the best of intentions, these adults still work within the school bureaucracy. This means that there are certain issues that they cannot address, or the program might risk losing funding. With good training and support, students can take on serious issues. Schools in this country are in need of a major transformation, not small reforms. This kind of transformation will not come from within school districts themselves. It can only come from communities, led by students and parents, coming together and reclaiming and re-visioning their schools. If we are serious about supporting real student engagement and real change for our schools, we need to invest in and support youth organizing.

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