Advocating and speaking out on topics and critical issues is always tough to do as a teenager. You don’t feel like you have any control. You may even feel like people overlook you. But, while this may be easy to say, no one is more powerful than a young voice. We speak a different truth, and as the future, we matter most.
Last year, I transferred from a Perspectives Charter School to the Noble Academy as a junior in high school. I didn’t expect much except to be in a learning environment that would support me until I made it to college. Unfortunately, during the time I transferred to the school, it had been facing principal changes that altered the culture of the school and the Noble Network, the organization that runs all 17 Noble schools. Knowing this, I tried my best to succeed in the learning environment even though it was not preferable.
Things were never easy. I remember constantly having conversations with teachers about the policy/rule changes, the new culture of the school, and the comfort of the learning space. The conversations were evident that there was a significant issue with the school but no one, students or teachers, ever felt they could do anything to fix the way things were.
I vividly remember my AP Language and Composition teacher, Mr. Schafft, interrupting planned lessons to have deep Harkness structured conversations to talk about blatant problems and how the student body could potentially solve them. But, as heartfelt and concerning as these conversations were, we still thought that deep down, whatever we tried to do as students, one, wouldn’t be taken seriously, and two, would never be long lasting.
These problems continued throughout the rest of the school year and into this school year.
Now, I’m a senior, and the same problems have stayed consistent, and new troubles are mounting.
During this school year, I, along with the student body and members of the school staff, struggle daily with an inefficient disciplinary structure that has negatively affected the entire landscape of our learning environment and has put many in a presumptively unsuccessful position as we prepare for college. We’ve struggled with policies being implemented to target a specific affinity group — African-Americans males — and also, which is the most detrimental to our learning, being taught by teachers who are not competent to teach.
So, Monday, Oct. 3, I, along with Ciara Haynes (12th grader), Tobias Gillespie (12th grader), Angel Ramierez (12th grader), Isai Villanueva (12th grader), and Romiyah Ratliff (11th grader) led the student body of the Noble Academy in a protest and have remained the representatives and student leaders to force change to occur within our school.
The protest was the initial step in what we expected to be a long process to enact change. This was our way of gaining everyone’s attention so that we could move toward a conversation about the logistics of the school.
And it worked.
We, the student representatives, talked to some of the Noble Network board to put the happenings at Noble Academy on notice. We shared our personal experiences and the experience of other students and staff. We also had a list of demands.
Our first demand is building a strong base for student representation.
After this situation, we know as students that our voices are as strong as the teachers, the administration, and anyone that makes up the school’s community, no matter what position of power. We want to make sure all students feel comfortable, respected, and have a say. Advocating for student representation is something that all students across the country should demand.
Our second demand is transparency.
Too many times, I have gone to other teachers and staff to understand why things are the way they are, and I can’t get a satisfactory response. This has everything to do with a lack of communication between students and leadership. Throughout my life, I, as a student, have been talked at and told to follow rules simply because they are in place. But, what students really need is the reasoning for regulations so that they want to follow the rules.
At my school, this is how it’s run, the student has to follow rules, even though they don’t understand them. Rules shouldn’t contain students; they should protect them.
Our last demand was to provide teachers with more support in the classroom.
As a student with a full AP class schedule, I need to ensure I understand the material each day because I can’t afford to fall behind. The only way for this to happen is if teachers are, for one, qualified to teach, and two, can focus on teaching. We know that from the outside looking in, teaching is a strenuous job, and we want teachers to be supported as much as we, the students, need to be supported. So we demanded to have teachers be provided with designated helpers to help them while they teach.
With all of these demands and the clear reasoning we provided the school board, we got satisfactory responses and expect things to be much better at the Noble Academy. None of this would have happened had we not stood up and advocated for ourselves. Advocating for yourself as a young person is of the utmost importance. What we accomplished is a prime example of that.
I am often overlooked due to many things, whether it’s my age, race, or physical presence, and I can’t stop that. But, this experience has taught me that what I can do is speak up and ethically force people to respect and listen to what I have to say.
By Jeremiah Griffith, Senior, Noble Academy
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