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Leaving a Lasting Mark: Inserting Student Voices into School Decisions and Policy

Team Flower Bears present to the PTSA on the development of the Bobby Salcedo Memorial Garden

Youth Voices is working with students from Mountain View High School to explore El Monte/South El Monte and the surrounding communities. The students have formed teams to explore and investigate their communities, map assets, collect and share stories, data and community input for their projects; all the while they are learning and expanding their knowledge of digital media and civic engagement. Follow their work here and on Instagram and Twitter by using #kcetyv.

A high school has a very clear hierarchy, with the bulk of the decisions made at the top administrative or district level. At the other end are the students who are required to follow the rules and decisions taken with few, if any, questions asked. It is for the most part a solid top down structure. Exceptions can occur, however, especially when a teacher or program is interested in activating students as agents of positive change and integrates this goal into their curriculum. When this happens, this top down structure is disrupted in a way that can be empowering for students and provide both academic and social skills. This ultimately benefits the school community by virtue of greater student involvement.

At Mountain View High School, students taking part in the Youth Voices program did just this, advocating for the causes they took on for their year long project.

Two of the teams developed projects that were deeply connected to their school's culture, history, and future. The Flower Bears investigated the need for a school garden that would commemorate the life of community leader, Bobby Salcedo, as well as provide a space for students to gather, reflect, and learn about becoming environmental stewards. Team Jasfersize's cause centered on raising awareness about teen dating abuse (TDA) and providing resources for youth and adults.

The teams investigated, researched, and conducted outreach and interviews for their projects, all the while publishing their work on the Youth Voices website. Their final activity consisted of presenting their work and findings to a community organization, in this case the Parent, Teacher, and Student Association (PTSA). The students selected the PTSA because they identified the need to build support in the school community and a plan for sustainability for both of their projects. The PTSA and its members offered an opportunity to ensure both.

The Flower Bears presented a PowerPoint that outlined the work they had done on their project, from identifying the need for a memorial garden, to their community engagement efforts. They described the benefits of the garden for the students, staff, and the community, including the PTSA. Their "Ask" for the group was to find volunteers to help establishing the garden, assist with fundraising, and help promote the garden to the community and the School Board.

The PTSA, along with Principal Larry Cecil, listened attentively to the presentation and offered their appreciation for the student's work. The main questions that emerged were around the budget and the location for the garden. The students are focused on getting donations of materials and labor for the garden to keep the cost low, so they have not really thought out their budget. Their discussion with the PTSA helped them understand that it's essential for them to have a working budget.

Principal Cecil also had a suggestion for a different location for the garden. The Flower Bears envisioned the garden on the south side of the campus near the corner of Magnolia St. and Parkway Dr., but Principal Cecil suggested moving the garden to a more central location near the athletic fields. He feels the new location would offer the garden more exposure and integrate it more effectively into the school community.

Team Jasfersize
Team Jasfersize
Jasfersize at the Breaking the Cycle TDA Workshop
Jasfersize at the Breaking the Cycle TDA Workshop

Team Jasfersize also presented a PowerPoint to the PTSA that shared key facts about their project on raising awareness of teen dating abuse (TDA). They provided the definition, examples, and the signs of TDA. For many of the adults in the room it was the first time they had learned about the prevalence of TDA and of the lack of resources to help the cause. They were interested to learn more, and were open to Jasfersize's proposal for a TDA Awareness Workshop for parents. Principal Cecil agreed and added that he would support a workshop for the staff and faculty of the school.

In January Jasfersize participated in a training by Breaking the Cycle, a national organization dedicated to supporting young people build healthy relationships and creating a culture without abuse. The focus of the training was understanding the dynamics of TDA and creating awareness using media. Jasfersize proposed a similar training for the parents and school staff and faculty, provided by Peace Over Violence, which offers trainings at no cost for parent groups, and low cost trainings for teachers and staff. A date and time for these trainings will be set at the first PTSA meeting in the fall.

Prior to their presentations the students were nervous about talking to the PTSA and sharing their projects, but afterwards they were emboldened by the support and appreciation the group gave them. Both teams clearly outlined their next steps and their commitment to continue with their projects through the summer, and into the next school year. The PTSA and Principal Cecil were impressed by the student's presentations and noted that they wanted to create more opportunities for students to voice their concerns and offer suggestions for Mountain View High School.

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