Student Voice Is Essential to Education Reform

Guest post by Felix Yerace

Over the last 11 years of my career in education, I have seen my students do amazing things and show leadership that I am not sure I possessed at 16 or 17, or 26 or 27, for that matter. They have improved their schools, advocated for their peers, given back to their communities, and made their world a better place. In doing so, they have learned powerful lessons that I could never have taught in the classroom. I am continually impressed with their efforts and abilities, and their work inspired me to go back to school to earn my PhD in Leadership Studies, focusing on youth leadership development to learn how to help other educators better support their own student leaders.

I strongly believe that the most important task that we as educators have is to help foster leadership development and civic engagement among our students and help them grow into the leaders our society needs. Too often we discuss the “leaders of tomorrow,” but my experience has shown me that students want to be leaders today. We owe it to them, as the caretakers of their schools, to provide them with the support they deserve to make that happen.

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The NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee.

A critical part of this is providing students meaningful opportunities for engagement at school. NASSP does this by sponsoring the National Association of Student Councils, as well as National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, and National Elementary Honor Society. These vital programs help give students a vehicle to channel their leadership skills, and we are fortunate these organizations exist.

I was very excited when I heard that NASSP was creating a Student Leadership Advisory Committee. I applied, and I was honored to be selected as one of the three adviser committee members of its inaugural group.

Our committee met for the first time in April, and we spent three very productive days networking, team-building, and envisioning a new national initiative for student leadership and engagement that could be utilized by students and their advisers across the nation. The project has the potential to positively impact millions of students and their schools, which is very exciting to me.

NASSP also demonstrated its commitment to student voice in April by organizing a Student Leadership Advisory Committee briefing on Capitol Hill, the committee’s first public event, which discussed technology use in schools. Panelists included a student from Howard University Middle School in Washington, D.C., and another student from North High School in Sioux City, Iowa. Howard University Middle School Head of School Kathryn Procope and I served as the two adult panelists. Committee members who were not able to sit on the panel helped to promote the event on social media.

During this special event, we spoke directly on the effects of education technology in our schools and its importance in students’ higher education and professional development. I was so happy that the students were featured prominently on the panel. It was a unique experience I know none of us will forget. NASSP worked hard to showcase student leadership and ensure that the most critical voice in educational reform—the student voice—is not overlooked.

Felix Yerace currently teaches history, AP government, sociology, and leadership classes at South Fayette High School in McDonald, PA, where he also serves as student council adviser. Follow him on Twitter @FelixYerace.

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