Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 13
ABOUT THE CITIZEN Z PROJECT
U.S. public education is rooted in the
belief by early American leaders that the
most important knowledge to impart to
young people is what it means to be a
citizen. If America is experiencing a civic
crisis now, as many say it is, schools
may well be failing at that job.
To understand the role of education
in preparing the next generation
of citizens, Education Week began a
series of articles, surveys, and projects
in early 2018. These articles and an
accompanying video make up the latest
installment in that initiative.
Photos by Gretchen Ertl for Education Week
See other stories in the series: www.edweek.org/go/
lieve it, how can they start matching their policies to
what's taught in government class about equal treatment under the law, freedom from arbitrary rules,
and a chance to be heard?
Here's one bold idea: Ask students themselves to
help identify problems.
TOP: High school senior
Elvis Rodriguez is one
of the students on
group. He also sits on
committee for the
another Boston high
school senior serving
on the advisory
council, prepares for a
session at East Boston
High School with the
Only a few years ago in Boston schools, it
was common for administrators to lock
tardy students out for the day, even when
they had a good excuse, like public-transit
Students had participated in drafting a new student code of conduct, in 2014, which clarified whether
such penalties were permissible and emphasized
keeping children in school. But its message was getting lost.
That's when the Boston Student Advisory Council
The council is an unusual student-voice initiative
which for nearly two decades has been jointly administered by the district's office of engagement and
the nonprofit Youth on Board. Part sounding board
and part advocacy group, the council is made up of
students representing city high schools who gather
weekly to discuss proposals affecting students and
work on their own initiatives.
At the time, "a lot of budget cuts were happening,
kids were getting suspended, and there was very
little support or acknowledgement about the reasons
you could suspend students," said Denyse Wornum,
21, the president of the council in 2014-15. "There
was a large frustration around the communication
in schools and the invisible barrier there between
teachers and students."
At first, its volunteers created posters outlining
some of students' most important rights, but they
got lost or pulled down at the end of the school year.
They printed little accordion-folding reference cards
for students' wallets, but getting them into thousands
of kids' hands was a logistical nightmare.
Finally, they hit on a "brainwave": an online, easily
accessible web-based app that details their rights in
The online resource details rights from the specific ones about tardiness and discipline to broader
ones, including free-speech rights and the right to
contribute to teachers' evaluations. It can be called
up on a mobile phone, and a 2016 update permits
students to report alleged violations directly to the
district's office of equity, theoretically triggering an
investigation within three days. For Wornum, who
spearheaded the app's launch, the project was personal: She had nearly slipped down the "school to
prison pipeline" herself. She'd acted out, been tossed
out of a Roman Catholic high school, and was accumulating a disciplinary record at her district school.
Rather than suspend her, a firm but caring teacher
asked Wornum to represent her school on the student
Ultimately, she said, the app has allowed for more
honest conversations between students and teachers.
"I look at the app as a vehicle for getting better information out," agreed Maria Estrada, the district's
student-engagement manager for BSAC. "Because of
that, I want to say more and more students are able
to advocate, and adults are able to listen."
The web app now counts more than 20,000
unique users, but both students and district
staff acknowledge that there's still work to
be done to make sure knowledge translates
into new school norms.
"We've done this communication, that you have
these rights, and that these are [practices] that
should be unacceptable," said Elvis Rodriguez, one
of the council's current members. "But they're still
happening on a day-to-day basis."
For one thing, district policy prohibits cellphone
use in school, which means that a student could get
in trouble for whipping one out to display the app to
a teacher or administrator. (That's a priority fix for
The other is a more general philosophical challenge: When districts empower students to use their
voice and assert their rights, they are inviting a degree of tension, because sometimes students will say
things administrators don't like.
In 2016, Boston students, including some from the
council, organized huge protests when the city was
considering budget cuts, prompting a pointed backand-forth in the media with the mayor, who appoints
school board members.
More recently, the students have pushed back on a
plan to close two high schools for rebuilding and are
worried about the future of the city's large vocational
"Sometimes we wait until it's too late. We have
issues, and students bring them up over and over,
and then they want to make a drastic decision," said
Ebunoluwa Osinubi, a senior at New Mission High
School and a council member, of students' relationship with the board. "Next time, if water is dripping,
don't wait until there's a puddle there."
But there has been progress, too.
Rodriguez now sits on the committee conducting
the city's superintendent search. That's a significant
investment of trust, because he's privy to internal deliberations that teachers, principals, and the media
are excluded from.
Students are also learning that most advocacy
takes time and compromise, said interim Superintendent Laura Perille.
"Advocacy means sometimes you win, sometimes
you lose, and sometimes you're part of the solution,"
Perille said. "And I think that is really what we owe
our young people. It isn't that we have to miraculously respond to everything they've said, but seriously consider it, and I also believe engage them in
the complexity of the issues."
Indeed, when the Boston Student Advisory Council
started decades ago, most of its campaigns took less
than a year and involved smaller-scale projects. But
now it's common for students to work on campaigns
for years. Newer projects include a climate-change
curriculum now in use in some city schools and a
proposed overhaul to Boston's dress-code guidance..
For all its imperfections, Boston has learned an important lesson: If you give students a real voice and
tell them about their rights, they just might take you
up on it.
Shortly after the 2017 incident at their
school, students at Victory Preparatory
Academy did get one thing they'd sought: a
It lasted less than a year.
Administrators didn't reconstitute the student
council in 2018-19, Emilio Flores said.
The academic environment remains similar today,
though there have been some positive changes, including teachers who seem to be more supportive,
But other scars from the tumult endure.
Emilio wept when describing how his parents
weren't able to set foot on campus for most of the
school year, including at soccer games.
"For me, it's sad to see how your friends' parents
are there at games, and [yours] can't be there for
you," he said. "Especially in soccer, because this is
the last year. And I've played since freshman year."
VPA administrators and the Floreses reached an
agreement in late April to allow the parents to attend their son's graduation. (In the court filings, VPA
officials claim that the Floreses did not respond to
earlier attempts to address the matter and to permit
the parents to return to campus.)
Beverly Felipe struggled for two months after leaving VPA. She finally enrolled in another high school
in Denver, where she missed VPA's academics and
disliked the impersonality of the new school.
"I hated it. It was a huge, huge school; all my teachers were surprised I'd be taking notes and rereading
material. It was a depressive moment," she said. "I
didn't want to go to school."
Still, she persevered and graduated at the end of
2018 and is now a college freshman who plans to
major in criminal justice.
One student who withdrew in the wake of the protest, identifed as V.S. in the complaint, is taking night
classes toward a GED but has not re-enrolled in a
regular high school.
Neither Emilio nor Beverly regrets their role in
the student protest. "It's a symbol of how we-not
just we-but how students as a whole can have their
voice heard and have changes in a school and not be
afraid of their administrators," he said. "[Students]
can make things better."
If Emilio's right, it means administrators nationwide will need to listen to what students are saying.
That's a tall order, with discipline and safety at the
top of their to-do lists.
It means trusting students, revisiting commandand-control rules and rigid consequences, and most
of all, being willing to let students express themselves without fear of being shut down.
Because when administrators paddle a student,
censor student-newspaper articles, write student
dress codes aimed at particular cultures, or fail to
involve students meaningfully in shaping school
norms, they risk undercutting the principles they
are supposed to be instilling.
"The balance between liberty and order is oftentimes difficult. But that's the nature of living in a
free society," said Hudson, the First Amendment expert. "It goes back to what Justice Fortas wrote in the
Tinker case: Free speech is a hazardous freedom."
Librarian Maya Riser-Kositsky provided research
EDUCATION WEEK | May 8, 2019 | www.edweek.org | 13
Education Week - May 8, 2019
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 8, 2019
Education Week - May 8, 2019
CITIZEN Z: How Schools Undercut Their Own Civics Lessons
A Slow Build for Reporting On ESSA Data
The Battle Over Who Gets Into Elite Public Schools
News in Brief
Girls Outshine Boys on Test of Tech, Engineering Skills
Career-Tech Ed Drawing Higher Achievers, College Goers
House Democrats Seek $4.4 Billion Ed. Dept. Increase
Trump Meets With Teacher Honorees, Even as Two Boycott
Lindsay J. Friedman: The Enduring Relevance of Holocaust Education
Kathy Liu Sun: How to Solve Our Math Worksheet Problem
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - The Battle Over Who Gets Into Elite Public Schools
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 2
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 3
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Report Roundup
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 5
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Girls Outshine Boys on Test of Tech, Engineering Skills
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Career-Tech Ed Drawing Higher Achievers, College Goers
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 8
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 9
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 10
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 11
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 12
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 13
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - House Democrats Seek $4.4 Billion Ed. Dept. Increase
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Trump Meets With Teacher Honorees, Even as Two Boycott
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 16
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 17
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Lindsay J. Friedman: The Enduring Relevance of Holocaust Education
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 19
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - Letters
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 22
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 23
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - 24
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - CW1
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - CW2
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - CW3
Education Week - May 8, 2019 - CW4