Capital Region School Districts Elevate Student Voices

The energy in the room was sky-high as nearly 40 students from 12 component districts joined together to train as lead facilitators for the new Elevating Student Voices initiative being piloted by Capital Region BOCES this year.

The Elevating Student Voices program will offer opportunities for young people from across the Capital Region to engage in constructive and open dialogue about their diverse life experiences in their schools and communities and take a deeper dive into issues that are important to them. The student facilitators will lead group discussions among their peers during three Elevating Student Voices forums in late October, December and March.

Student leadership at forefront of new program

Retired Niskayuna educator/administrator Eva Jones and veteran BOCES social worker Diane Blinn partnered to lead the facilitator training for high school students and their adult mentors from districts ranging from Shenendehowa to Schoharie and Guilderland to Watervliet. 

The students and mentors engaged in “get-to-know-you” icebreakers to start the training, which provided opportunities for participants to learn about each other and become more comfortable leading discussions. Students and adults alike completed Post-it notes answering “about myself” prompts. The sticky notes were then placed on display around the room where students and adults could read the answers and share the similarities and differences.

“I noticed that there is a lot of curiosity and students wanting their voices to be heard,” shared a student from Green Island.

A Schenectady student observed that all participants seemed comfortable sharing their likes and dislikes about their communities. 

Some common concerns noted by students included bullying, especially on social media; racism and inequality among groups; the prevalence of disrespectful behaviors; and close mindedness of some groups to others. 

The training continued with students reviewing elements of effective group discussions, especially the importance of creating safe spaces for sharing around sensitive topics and inviting all voices to be heard.

Students share insights and purpose

As the students and adults gathered in a discussion circle, a Shen student observed that each of the day’s activities became more collaborative as students first worked alone, then as pairs and later in small groups. “It helped us settle in and get to know each other, which made it easier to express your thoughts, I think,” the student said.

“Insightful of you to notice that,” said Blinn, motioning with her hands apart, then gradually bringing them together. “Start out here making people feel welcome and then bring them in closer. As facilitators that is what you want to be doing.”

A Schenectady student reflected on the training. “I like the fact that there is no judgment here. It definitely helps people get more comfortable. It allows you to be yourself and work up to sharing. There is no pressure.”

Another Shen student observed that whether her peers volunteered for the training or were selected by school administrators to participate, most all recognized the purpose of the program and were all in: “I feel like we all have a drive to be here. Whether some of us in this room were asked to be here, I feel like in the end, we all have a purpose. We all want to be here because we see that it will be great to help our communities and each other.”