A student-led walk out that took place last month at South Oak Cliff High School demonstrated the collective power of the student voice. On the surface, the high school students were (rightfully) protesting the (appalling) physical condition of the school structure – which, for reasons beyond my level of expertise, had been allowed to deteriorate to such levels (even after funding from the last bond program had been ‘approved for appropriation’ to the school). Digging deeper however, in motion, was a simple, yet powerful message – a declaration by the students that the marginalized quality of their educational experience(s) would no longer be tolerated. Through this demonstration, this message was conveyed not only to those media outlets located directly outside the walls of the southern Dallas school, but also, to education stakeholders across the city – stakeholders whom for far too long have been out of touch with their most important constituents (the students).
This subtle exercise in free speech very much resonated with a conversation I had the privilege of participating in with a group of Dallas ISD students just the other week. In an effort to begin a dialogue that addressed specific action steps, which would (hopefully) ultimately lead to an enhanced academic experience for these students, I was amazed by the conversation that transpired. There was no talk about ‘wanting’ better cafeteria food, classes with no homework, or ‘extra’ free time. Rather, for nearly 60 minutes, the small group of high school students spoke passionately about their desire to be challenged, engaged, and inspired by their classroom teachers. They wanted structure – not chaos in their classroom(s). They wanted well-prepared, experienced teachers that looked like them and could resonate with their life experiences – not long-term substitutes or teachers brand new to the profession that would ‘leave.’
I felt privileged to have heard the dynamic ideas shared and the concerns these students raised. Their requests were authentic, sincere, and quite honestly, basic rights all students attending any form of schooling should be afforded (i.e., having a high quality teacher in every classroom). What will it take in order for the voices of all students within Dallas ISD to be heard? Will it take a walk or will it take more? Are key stakeholders having these types of authentic conversations with students across the city? If not, then an important issue is raised relating to ‘value’ – and more specifically, the value we are placing on the quality of education students within Dallas ISD receive.
Put simply, what type of educational experience do we believe is suitable for students attending these schools – if it is not one in which stakeholders would find suitable for their own children, then clearly, we as a city have a long way to go to ensure our students voices are heard.