Student Voice = Awesomeness

Student Voice

As I follow the news about the ‘March for Our Lives’ campaign, I can’t help but be impressed with these teenagers’ strength and courage, although I am not in the least bit surprised. This reminds me of my experiences as a teacher/administrator working in a high school and the reactions of those around me when I told them what I did for a living. The comments varied over the years, but the general gist of their reactions fell into the category of, “Are you insane?” They couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that I love what I do. I am guessing this had a lot to do with their own angst with their teenage children, as the questions that followed were fairly common, such as “How can you handle the ‘disrespect…rudeness…laziness…mood swings’?” Absolutely, teens will push us…I should know, as I was one of them…but…and here’s the important piece…if we give them a voice, hmmmm, imagine the awesomeness! Just look at the global movement that these young people in Florida have started.

Now, working in an elementary school for the past three years, a whole new world to me, I can say the same thing. Whether they are teens or little ones, the work is admittedly hard…this is definitely not a career path for the faint of heart. That said, these students’ needs are similar, despite their age differences…and if they are given a voice, and an opportunity to act, our world becomes a much better and brighter place.

These are some of the experiences that I have had in only the past 6 months with many students who have wanted to make a difference.

Socktober. One student in a Grade 3/4 class had been bothered by the homeless people that he saw on the streets, and asked for permission to start up a campaign to collect socks for Siloam Mission. His goal was to collect 500 pairs of socks. With the help of his class, and his teacher who incorporated this fundraiser into their classroom learning to support this boy, he collected close to 1,300 pairs. He has asked to start up April Showers to round up toiletries for the same organization. His teacher will again incorporate this into their learning, so I am hoping that his campaign is another success.

Project Recycled Runway. Our Grade 6 students collected garbage in and around our community in the Fall, gathering data as they went along. They wrote letters to the local politicians, school board members and business owners to share their findings and to offer solutions to help curb the problem. When these businesses and politicians responded, they went further with their research on the different materials found during their clean-up, and used recycled materials to make clothing items. It was amazing! They then presented their findings and their newly-made ensembles to their parents and our school community, with informational videos created using Adobe Spark, as a fashion show. The parents weren’t sure what to expect with this evening, but were blown away by the students’ professionalism, and their knowledge on the subject. Using their voices, these 11- and 12-year olds were able to impact a larger community to make changes.

EQAM. An acronym for Élèves qui aident le monde or Students Helping our World, these Grade 5 students have come together over the past three years to raise funds and awareness for different organizations in Winnipeg. They have organized bake sales, school dances, popcorn sales and awareness campaigns to support organizations such as Siloam Mission, Winnipeg Harvest, RaY, Take Pride Winnipeg, CancerCare Manitoba, and the list goes on. Most recently, their popcorn sale raised money for two former students who lost their mother in a fire over the holidays. Their passion for our community is inspiring!

Dance Club. Two Grade 7 students wanted to start up a dance club with students in Grades 5 to 8…so they did. 25 students between the ages of 10 and 14 come together twice a school cycle under their leadership to practice their dance numbers in preparation for different performances. It gives them an avenue to express themselves and to think outside the box. This is extraordinary!

During my time spent in high schools, many students did more of the same, whether in their environmental or social justice groups. When passionate about a cause, these teenagers organized fundraisers, and informational evenings for our communities. Add this to their food drives, the sleepless nights in support of homeless shelters, the community information evenings focusing on diversity…or trauma…or parenting…or drug use, the community dinners for Thanksgiving, and fashion shows to inspire students’ creativity and well, you get the idea. One Leadership group supported Breast Cancer Awareness with a street hockey tournament, as this team was made up of hockey players, while one of their teammates’ mothers was undergoing treatment at the time. They combined their passion for a sport with a cause that they were passionate about, and through their campaigning, they did an extraordinary job of involving the school community, raising awareness and collecting funds for research. Add that to their immense pride in themselves when they were able to present a cheque to the National Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation through our local hospital. Twelve years later, this student’s mother is still cancer-free.

My whole point in all this is that whether your child is 8, 12 or 17, if given a voice and an opportunity to try something and to take risks with their learning in an authentic, relevant way, I can guarantee you that these children will stand up, they will speak up, they will act and they will be heard. This is true whether they are teens, pre-teens or primary school-aged children and is something that I have experienced over and over again throughout my career! And the beauty in all this is that I am witness to their extraordinariness each and every day! This is why I love my job!


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