How to embed student voice throughout a district
Student voice has had a significant impact on altering the dress code and diversifying the curriculum in Maryland’s Howard County Public School System.
One reason those voices play such as major role in the district is that Superintendent Michael Martirano, a former high school class president, spends a lot of time listening to the approximately 60,000 students in the system’s 69 schools.
“Student voice is not an add-on or an afterthought—it’s a proactive part of how we’ve shifted education in Howard County,” Martirano says. “We have to constantly check in with students to ensure we are meeting their needs.”
Students have been instrumental in updating the curriculum with books and reading lists that more fully represent the district’s diverse ethnicities, Martirano says.
Students are now working with administrators to review and improve the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion policies, an effort that has taken on more urgency since the death of George Floyd and the ensuring anti-racism protests, he says. Administrators have encouraged—and actually expect—teachers to have regular class conversations about social justice, whether that’s in-person or virtually. Educators have also sent letters of support to students.
“Students of color, our black and brown students, are feeling greatly under stress,” he says. “Our students are suffering in silence, and we’re responding that we know they’re in pain.”
Student voice informs the school board
Student voice also recently moved the district to loosen its dress code.
“There’s a high level of student voice in many of the policies that impact our students,” Martirano says. “I encourage it in everything we do.”
For example, school board members now frequently ask whether student voice has been heard before making decisions on various issues. They will also ask whether students have participated in the review committees that report on matters the board is deliberating.
The school board also has a student member who has engaged classmates on social media and collected feedback.
Online learning links
Of course, keeping in touch with students since the coronavirus outbreak closed schools has been a bit more challenging than it was during normal operations.
Martirano says he puts all district communications into the learning management system so students can see the messages when they retrieve their assignments. Educators were concerned parents weren’t sharing all notifications with their children.
Martirano has also held Zoom meetings and phone calls with students, visited online class sessions and corresponded via email and letters.
“It’s been challenging doing all this in isolation because I’m an extrovert,” Martirano says.
As for the coming school year, Martirano and his team are developing several options for instruction, from virtual to in-person to a hybrid approach. However, not knowing what the public health situation will be in mid-August, requires the district and the community to remain flexible.
“Short of a vaccine, many parents, teacher and students are afraid to go back into the environment where they could come into contact with the virus,” he says. “We’re being patient and persistent and honest with the community about what we can and can’t do.”
DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.