How Chicago’s 200 student voice committees solve problems

Committees have tackled issues as wide-ranging as community activism and equity in online learning
By: | July 31, 2020
Members of Chicago Public Schools student voice committees have become more active in local causes and have also gotten their classmates involved.Members of Chicago Public Schools student voice committees have become more active in local causes and have also gotten their classmates involved.

In Chicago, students as young as elementary age learn to organize around a cause, build civic leadership skills and forge partnerships with adults.

This learning takes place within the nearly 200 student voice committees that have been created by Chicago Public Schools educators over the last several years.

The committees have tackled issues as wide-ranging as community activism and equity in online learning to school-uniform requirement challenges, says Cristina Salgado, the district’s senior student voice specialist.

On the dress code front, “it wasn’t that students hated the uniforms but that buying khaki pants were an extra expense and then the pants got dirty and some students didn’t have washing machines,” Salgado says. “The adults began to understand—it wasn’t just kids complaining.”


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Assembling diverse committees is one reason the district offers “Student Voice 101” training to help the adult advisors who work with the committees understand how to empower young people and encourage students to get involved in various forms of activism.

“It’s not enough to go to teachers and ask them to nominate someone because what ends up happening is the ‘best’ students get nominated,” Salgado says. “We have to do our due diligence to make sure we are creating committees that are representative of all students.”

Students involved in the committees have become more active in causes in their communities and have also gotten their classmates involved in local issues, such as the census.

“For me, it’s not always about the end product, it’s about what students learn along the way,” she says. “The more they build positive student-adult partnerships, the more we will see change because adults will begin to practice not making rash decisions.”

Read the other stories in our series on student voice:

  1. Student voice creates a greater sense of belonging and diversity 
  2. How a superintendent builds a ‘high level of student voice’
  3. Here’s where student voice inspires eighth-grade activism
  4. 4 stories of how student voice is growing in volume