NJ superintendent boosts student voice by making them part of decisionmaking
- Joseph Meloche, superintendent of Cherry Hill Public Schools in Cherry Hill, NJ, is among Education Week's “leaders to learn from” for working to elevate student voice by giving them a role in the decisionmaking process.
- Meloche actively seeks the opinions of students and alumni to find out ways to improve the school experience and better prepare them for life after graduation.
- As a result, students have helped bring problems to the attention of school leaders and have aided in providing ideas for how to solve them.
Educators often stay at the same school for years and see young faces come and go. It's easy to forget that the school years, especially time in high school, are a one-time experience for these students and one that will shape their perception of education for the rest of their lives. Students who feel devalued, belittled or unsafe at school will often pass those perceptions down to their own children, and educators will have to deal with those inherited attitudes in the future. Students who feel engaged and heard, however, will be more likely to become teachers, leaders in the community or advocates for public schools. For the sake of students and their future offspring, student voice matters.
One way to solve the problem is by increasing student voice. Of course, educators must remain at the helm, and big decisions are usually made at the school board level. But students are stakeholders, too. The more students feel valued and heard, the more they will feel engaged in the learning process. That is why some schools are creating new structures to encourage student voice and why so much research has been done on the issue.
The Glossary of Education Reform defines student voice as “the values, opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students in a school, and to instructional approaches and techniques that are based on student choices, interests, passions, and ambitions.” For school leaders who are not clear on how to incorporate this into their school districts, simply ask the students. In 2013, high school students in the Student Voice Collaborative in New York City put together a Student Voice Rubric to help focus attention on areas in which students want a voice.