“If we empower our students more… the community will get more involved with the school, and the school will therefore get more involved in the community,” said Salamanca High School teacher Justin Hubbard at Beyond the Vote. I believe that schools must offer us the opportunities to create real change in order to empower students in the ways Hubbard hopes.
When I spoke during the webinar to New York City Council Member Christopher Marte and Gabriel Lewenstein, Chief of Staff to Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, they shared how empowered they felt at the prospect of "keep[ing] every issue local" to create greater impact.
For students, what is more local than their schools?
From curriculum development to school budget allocation, there are opportunities for civic learning in every aspect of school policy. “For young people today," said Chelsea Miller, "it is especially important to show up where policy-making decisions are made."
When it comes to engaging in school policy, youth change-making can have reverberating effects beyond a single school — whether it is through holding leadership positions on school boards or advising members of the Department of Education or Board of Regents — and give students a window into the inner workings of government and public policy. These important opportunities should be afforded to youth across New York and around the country.
Reflecting further on my questions of why young people feel so detached from civic engagement and how this issue can be remedied, I understand better now that student power is key. By including student voices everywhere education decisions are made, young people will learn the value of our opinions and prepare for a future of meaningful civic engagement.
As Chancellor of the Board of Regents Lester Young emphasized during Beyond the Vote, New York City is the largest school district in the country, and New York State has almost 2.5 million elementary, middle, and high school students. If student involvement in policymaking was emphasized statewide, millions of students would have the opportunity to become civic leaders, empowered to better their communities.