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March 3, 2020

Marina Ackerman: Respecting student voice

Marina Ackerman is currently a business-preference freshman, interested in majoring in marketing with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation with the Broad College of Business

As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously stated, “The secret in education lies in respecting the student.” Before I was introduced to the idea of student voice, it seemed that a lot of my teachers would just throw information at us for tests, rather than digging deeper beyond “here’s what you need to know.”

While student voice is incorporating the opinions and ideas of students to foster purposeful learning, student agency is the actual power that allows students to voice their opinions. Pleasing every student seems like an insurmountable task, but making room for their voices is the best way to start.

My journey in student voice work started at the Summer Youth Dialogues program in the summer before my junior year of high school. At this camp, I participated in several dialogue sessions with students from all across Metro Detroit and from varying backgrounds on the race and ethnicity issues that surround us.

Following my start with SYD, I developed and ran a workshop alongside about 15 other students for Novi Community School District’s professional development. By referencing Novi student survey results throughout the workshop and dialogue sessions, we were able to bring quantitative data as well as student experience to teachers. I also had the opportunity to facilitate student-administrator dialogue about the high school to college transition at the Depression on College Campuses conference, as well as student-parent dialogue about mental health at the Novi Public Library.

These experiences show that not only are students eager to share their voices with those in power in schools, but those adults are equally as eager to listen. This is student agency.

Each year, the Michigan Association for Superintendents and Administrators hosts a conference to hold breakout sessions on district improvement. For the conference this year, I was invited to do the opening keynote demonstrating student voice alongside my collaborators from Novi, Detroit and Dearborn schools. I co-facilitated a live dialogue between students and superintendents from around Michigan; to show over 450 school superintendents what it may look like to bring student voice to their districts.

Excluding student voice from high-level decisions should no longer be an option for schools. Growing up in the Novi Community School District, I’ve been lucky enough to have a voice that is valued by adult allies. Without students, what is a school? Students must be listened to and taken seriously by educators.

Building upon my high school efforts, I am looking forward to supporting campus efforts aND promoting equity and inclusion by advocating for and exercising student voice and agency at MSU. Everybody has a voice, so use it to better not only yourself, but the place that you’re at the most — your school. Use what you’re given, and change what needs fixing.