Youth Voice Volume 25, Number 2
This is the expanded version of the student Viewpoint discuss that appears in Volume 25, No. 1 of the Youth Voice issue of the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network Newsletter from page eight.
Special thanks to guest editor Terry Pickeral of Cascade Educational Consultants who engaged Tiffany Abbott, Jade Aeschliman, Zion Creswell, and Jason Price—students at Options High School in Bellingham, WA—as contributors to the Newsletter’s first ever Viewpoint written from the perspective of youth. Here, and in videotaped interviews, the four shared insights on the importance of student engagement, their individual discoveries, and what they valued most in completing their high school education.
Zion: All my life school was a struggle, but I actually loved to learn. I hated school because it felt like a “cookie cutter” that everyone needed to fit and I didn’t. Somewhere along the line there was a disconnect, and this led me to not graduate on time, which was a humiliating and painful experience that made me realize that there needed to be change.
Looking back, I wonder if the “disconnect” was that I could not see how mainstream classes related to my future. I was excited to have the option to attend a smaller school, which initially was a major culture shock, but I soon became comfortable and I never had such good grades. That made me feel confident and happy for the first time in my high school experience. What I found most important were small classes, individualized attention, engaging activities, and trusting relationships.
Jade: During my first two years of high school, I was frequently in trouble and failing, but now I’m graduating early. The difference is that [our] teachers [took] time to get to know each student, demonstrate that they care, and [that they were] willing to understand the circumstances students experience in and outside of school. Great teachers know where I’m coming from.
In terms of classroom experiences, teachers who engage us in project and group activities are more effective, as they encourage us to learn both about the subject but also build interpersonal skills.
Jason: My first years of high school, I was not doing my best, not applying myself, but knew I was more than capable of being successful, just not in an environment that did not really engage me.
What I find most helpful in terms of teacher characteristics is their comfort taking risks and trying new things in the classroom to make learning relevant. Using group-based activities to ensure we are capable of working with others and [that we] take individual and collective responsibility for learning. What I find most unhelpful are teachers who want every student to learn the way they learned rather than the way we learn. I believe everyone has a unique way of learning, and we’re
ost successful when teachers focus on assisting us [in] thinking, applying what we learn, and [in] enjoying the activities.
Tiffany: The majority of my school experience was a teacher standing in front of the classroom sharing information, and expecting me to comprehend everything. I am not that type of learner, whatsoever, so this was a big challenge for me. Later, in Options High School, I realized that some teachers do care, and they were there to help me. They got to know me in a way that [signaled them] when I was struggling, and [they] pushed me to go beyond what I thought I could do. These experiences led me to believe that student leadership and engagement is the best mix for success.
For me, motivation is a critical to success. If I am disengaged and unmotivated, I will most likely not succeed, or eventually not want to succeed. If we want students to engage, tasks need to be relevant. If I don’t feel like I am contributing to what we’re doing, I am going to zone out and be done.
Summary: While our journeys are different, we have all experienced school environments and activities that were not relevant to our lives [or] our ability to learn. At the same time we [had] teachers who engaged us, believed in us, and focused on knowledge and skill development.
Ensuring that students stay in school requires an environment that is safe, [and one that] challenges each student [along with] teachers who understand our circumstances and us. Placing our aspirations and ourselves on the Understanding the Continuum of Youth Involvement chart, we encourage all teachers to focus on Youth Leadership and Youth Engagement columns. Doing so will motivate each student to understand how education is relevant to their lives now, and in the future.
If you would like to read other online expanded content from this issue of Youth Voice, click here for the extended interview with Anderson Williams.