People often ask me, "As a student leader, what changes would you most like to make for students?" Without hesitation, I tell them how I want to help students feel empowered to use the power of their voice and change the way that decisions across all levels of education are made. The student voice movement has evolved exponentially in the last 10 years thanks to many committed people questioning why students aren't included in the decision-making process since they are, in fact, the direct consumers of the education system. Another hope of mine is to help students gain the skills that will allow them to make educated decisions and form educated opinions.
One of the most important aspects of a good leader is passion. Grade 9 was for me, as it is for many, a transition period to a new environment where I struggled to find my voice towards creating positive situations and meaningful change. Grade 10 was the beginning of my journey to become a student trustee. At the beginning of this journey, I found myself focusing frequently on issues that weren't meaningful or that were out of my control. The passion I feel for helping people and for creating change is the driving force behind my continued involvement in the student voice movement.
A common issue that the movement faces is sustainability. Students graduate and move on, and often there aren't measures in place to keep the student voice movement alive among new students starting high school. I would like to see improved training for teachers and administrators to encourage their students to exercise their voice.
Tokenism in communication is another challenge. Knowing that their opinions won't be heeded even after they've been invited to share their thoughts discourages many students from speaking up. Training teachers and students to move past this level of tokenism will allow dialogues to open up that can create meaningful change.
Currently, teachers still hold the upper hand in the power dynamic that exists in schools because, for the most part, teachers inform students of decisions. In my experience, many teachers have expressed their fears about losing their authority if this dynamic changes to a shared decision-making platform. A key to success in exercising student voice is working out what level of participation is right for each party in order for both to feel comfortable.
I would like to stress once again that, no matter what level of student you are, you have the opportunity to create meaningful and lasting change in the education system. All the way from the opportunities provided by organizations such as the Ontario Student Trustees' Association, to your everyday classes, I encourage you to become involved in your education. One of the best ways to ensure you have a positive high school experience is to find something you are passionate about and pursue it. Whether it be sports, the arts, or clubs such as the debate team, each and every passion is valuable and should be supported by the school community. Being involved and participating in opportunities provided, gives you a sense of achievement which subsequently leads to enhanced opportunities and sets you up for further success in your future. With that, I encourage you to think every day, "How can I make a change today?" To everyone — from students to teachers — just remember: when you approach life with a positive outlook and with passion you are capable of anything.
Evan Rogers is a grade 12 student trustee in the Lambton-Kent DSB. He is passionate about being involved in the student voice movement. Evan aspires to become a social worker so he can continue to help youth faced with challenges in their lives.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and not of the school board.