A STATEMENT FROM THE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT AND ADVANCEMENT BOARD OF THE ST. PAUL PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
With us, the students, saying that our primary issues with the St. Paul Public Schools are feelings of exclusion and of being forgotten, it should be clear that the solution to our school climate problems isn’t police. It’s perspective.
The Student Engagement and Advancement Board presented to the St. Paul school board on May 17, hoping to shift the narrative on school climate. To a room full of tears and applause, we were able to demonstrate that school climate isn’t about fights and suspensions, but about creating an environment within our schools where everyone can thrive.
News stories have depicted St. Paul schools as war zones, yet student perspective on the problems and solutions for school climate was never sought. Students don’t feel as if they’re in a war zone — they feel as if no one’s listening. Our goal was not to declare that students know everything or that we must banish adults’ power and create a student-led anarchical society. It was about the need for someone to ask us — the students.
We believe that our expertise is not sought, that it is often overlooked or blatantly ignored. These are our schools. We care about them. If asked, we can tell you what we are really experiencing — the good and the bad.
This message is not just directed at the school board, but to legislators, administrators, teachers, unions, parents and the media as well. Adults perpetuate the disregarding of the student voice. It is their responsibility to start asking us, for once.
Our presentation included passionate, courageous stories — both positive and negative — told by students across our schools.
Serene Lewis told a simple yet powerful story of being disregarded in her call for improvements to school lunch. She spoke about there being a lack of avenues for students’ voices to even be heard, let alone matter. A school where everyone can thrive is a school where all voices are heard.
Skyler Kuczaboski spoke about her love of the American Indian Magnet School and the American Indian studies program at her high school. The people in those classes stimulated her love for school in a way she believes all students should have the right to experience. A school where everyone can thrive is a school where we experience positive relationships.
Angela Vang spoke about how being given chances to rectify her past mistakes has led her on a path toward success. Every student deserves that chance. A school where everyone can thrive is a school where mistakes are an opportunity for growth.
Xe Chang talked about her Hmong people’s invisibility in school curriculum. In a School District with 78 percent students of color and a great diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities, our textbooks are still dominated by the narrative of white, cisgender males. A school where everyone can thrive is a school where nobody feels invisible.
Isabel Reimer courageously spoke about her sexual abuse/harassment in school. To a tearful room, she spoke her truth, amplifying the voices of far too many girls. A school where everyone can thrive is a school where everyone feels safe and respected.
These were the stories of only five students. There are 39,000 students in the St. Paul Public Schools. Since we are merely children, we ask that you kindly do the math and let us know how many voices are left to be heard.
Age does not guarantee competence. Youth does not guarantee incapability. If schools are supposed to exemplify collaboration, hear us and trust us. We are competent, our narratives are real, and every day we grow more frustrated and angry.
The Student Engagement and Advancement Board hopes to create a true avenue where students are heard and their voices matter. Where we are never filtered for the sake of other constituents. Where every voice is heard, not just the voices of the privileged.
We cannot continue to allow others to speak for students. As much as we may love our parents, teacher unions or legislators, they do not provide an accurate representation. Our problems are not unique to St. Paul schools. We hope other districts follow suit.
Our plan is simple: We aim to build the stage, but pass the mike.
This article was signed by the following members of the Student Engagement and Advancement Board: Astrid Steiner-Manning, Isabel Riemer, Keith Eicher, Kyeh Paw, Marcellus Ifonlaja, Mikhail Prasolov, Rogelio Salinas, Ruby Sutton, Serena Jing, Serene Lewis, Skyler Kuczaboski, Xe Chang and Zoe Sblendoriogiebel.