As I sat there and looked around at the students that showed up noticing the nervousness in the air, although we all knew each other. In total, there were seven students that showed up and were from different grades, gender, and race. I tried to make it as diverse as possible so we could hear out more than one perspective of the student experience. One of the reasons why it’s so vital to make sure different perspectives are being heard is because even though we think we know what someone is experiencing, you can’t really look beneath the surface and see more than just the tip of the iceberg. Though our school is merely one hundred and thirty students, the general experience of someone born and raised in NH is different than the general experience of someone born and raised in China going to school in the North Country, NH. Moreover, someone born and raised in New York City going to a school surrounded by mountains, trees, and more trees. The student experience is different for everyone and I felt as if gathering six students was not enough. I wanted to listen to more people to speak out on the conversation in regards to building voice and a positive school climate.
Overall I thought that this was a tremendously impactful discussion. I heard and purposely choice people that wouldn’t really speak up in front of the whole community but would much rather speak in a small group discussion. We started off by discussing the value and inclusion of student’s voices in the school community and got similar results. The average score was an 8. The lowest score was seven. The highest was nine.
Students felt like the teachers and faculty, specifically in a classroom setting, valued feedback from students in a way they can meet every students’ needs and are willing to listen to students that have a hard time. Additionally, when student leaders such as student council members or residential assistants are selected, the input of each individual is valued through voting. Last year, as was brought up in the discussion, a new head of school was chosen. Students were involved in the process of selecting a new head of school by giving tours, being invited to participate in interviews, sitting down with the candidates during lunch and ultimately coming together as a community and listening to them speak.
From a small scale of choosing what students want to do during the weekend in social committee (run by students by our Social Chair) and to large scale things like getting to plan MLK day or Sustainability day, student input is also being regarded.
“I would probably give it an eight because the voices are heard. But, do they make the change?” Jamie Mazimba’ 23
Other students talked about how student voice is being sought out but not necessarily put into action. Some students thought that the school needed to work on reflecting on the student feedback that they are constantly given. This is a constant reminder that though students do have the power to bring change that they want to see in their school environment, that power ever so limited and highly dependant on the administration.
“I came here because it had a strong academic support program and I’ve definitely noticed that there is a lot more involvement here with students both, if there are things that aren’t working, teachers are willing to work with students to find solutions… there is a lot more help available if needed compared to a public school system and also the study block at the end of the day can help a lot…… that was one of the big differences for me since one of my big issues was with executive dysfunction.” Tana Petrangelo’ 21”
Many students explained that they came from big schools where individualized learning wasn’t really valued so academics were hard. The academic pressure at their other schools was intense and didn’t focus on other things of the student experience. Moreover, the community of one hundred and thirty students bought students who wanted to get to know teachers on a personal level and know the names of everyone in the community. One of the students explained that even if it seems like students don’t like being at school, part of it is just dealing with high school.
A huge part of the discussion was centered on building a positive school climate specifically through the well-being of individuals. Part of the high school experience comes with stress which one time or another, a student will experience. Like many students expressed, the small community allows for more conversation around issues that matter to them. Whether it’s a celebration of a culture, a topic regarding the student of color experience, the telling of someone’s personal journey story or a coming out, the community will partake in listening.
Similar to the activity of rating the inclusion and value of student voice, we continued our discussion by discussing the value of student voice and how many students especially this year are taking the initiative to start groups and overall more activities both on and off-campus. For example, something that I was surprised to see many students sign up for was participating in a climate strike because it hasn’t happened before and hasn’t noticed students that would be willing to participate. I was surprised to see that we ended up taking two busloads of students. All it takes and I mean this truly, is for one person to stand up and speak out.
“If you have an idea, there is definitely one more person who thinks like you….. It’s a small school but like someone definitely has the same idea as you.” Amin Arabzaba’ 20
In terms of the change of the school climate throughout the years, a student mentioned how the upperclassmen are much more reserved this year compared to last year where you could clearly see who the student leaders were. She was inquisitive to see how next year seniors will turn out to be and how the pressure of “leading the school” will be on. Some other realizations that were made were that compared to other years and what students have seen at other schools, freshmen seem to be more integrated with the student body and interacting with the upperclassmen a bit more.
“I feel like being here I feel like I live in a bubble and it’s just like I don’t know how to make my voice heard. Going out into the community… who is willing to listen to what I have to say? It’s hard to get out there when we are so used to being here…we’re in a bubble ” Leah Foster’ 21
“Small school in a small town in the middle of nowhere… it can be pretty isolating” Tana Petragelo’ 21
“I feel like there are not any chances we get to share our voices outside of school because there have been a lot of people working on it and we don’t have much of a connection to those events.” Jim Chen’ 21
One of the topics that came up as we continued discussing building a positive school climate and voice was the idea, “Do you think your voice matters outside of school?” Though many students responded yes, many said to a certain extent it does and that the power of our voice will continually grow louder as we get older. Students discussed how sometimes being the middle of nowhere can be hard to express our voice to the outside community because the majority of the time we are on campus and even when we do express them, it’s hard to get in touch with people from the outside community that will help us amplify them. However, ever since this roundtable discussion that took place, I have been working closely with the Elizabeth Warren campaign with canvassing. We took a couple of students from our community around town to learn how to canvass and have been trying to do it every other weekend. Though it has been a little isolating, students get a sense for what they can do to be supportive for other members of the community.
“In everything, there is an advantage and disadvantage. This bubble is okay to have to keep away the bad stuff… but it is also important to know about the real-world events and know that they exist beyond the world outside of WMS. To be honest, I never thought that when in WMS, I could wear my Afghan clothes and everybody is like ‘ok’…’It’s so nice’ or ‘I like your clothing’ but then once I dress up like an Arab in DC, a diverse place, I got flipped off by a person of color calling me a “terrorist”. It’s important to know that [discrimination] like that exists because we have a lot of international students and soc.” Amin Arabzaba’ 20
“And… they do exist on our campus too. Microaggressions and stuff like that… even though we are a really sheltered community, we can’t ignore that we do have problems like that. Even though it is smaller than it could be at other schools, we still have them.” Sylvie Cromer’ 22
One of my last questions that I made sure everyone got to answer was, “ Do you think there are enough resources for you to be your best self? What does your support system look like here at WMS? What would you like it to look like?”
For the majority of it, students explained that there are a lot of resources for students to be their best selves. However, there are small bits that need to be improved. For day students since the experience is not like a boarding student the resources and people that the people that they can reach out to changes. For some students who aren’t exactly “go-getters”, they need to seek out resources while others need to look beyond just the school community. Through our support system is not perfect, the school is doing a good job of trying to meet all of the students’ needs.
My takeaway from this experience is that it is crucial for the school community to have open discussions like these with students if truly, feedback is wanted. I gathered seven students across grades, ethnicity, and gender to formulate a way we can better build a positive community and figure out what impact we want student voice to have at our school and eventually working on building our student voice with the outer community!