How student voice creates a diverse curriculum

'When student voice is shared but not used, it makes students feel disempowered'
By: | July 1, 2020
The public Springfield Renaissance School has several student voice groups, including focused on race and equity in the curriculum.The public Springfield Renaissance School has several student voice groups, including focused on race and equity in the curriculum.

Student voice has had a big impact on diversifying the Springfield Renaissance School’s curriculum since coronavirus forced the students online.

Students told teachers and staff in a virtual “voice” session this spring that books celebrating diverse cultures and identities were only assigned “in pockets,” says Principal Arria Coburn, whose 6-12 school is part of Springfield Public Schools in Massachusetts.

“Students were very articulate in saying that we need to do more,” says Coburn. “They said talking about race and equity and inclusivity sometimes feels like only a special edition of the curriculum.”

The school has a high school student voice group focused specifically on race and equity that has tackled issues like Latinx representation in the curriculum and the use of racial slurs by opposing teams in sporting events.


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These students have also commended teachers who have gone beyond the curriculum to teach cultural history that has been neglected by textbooks. The students have also advocated making the Juneteenth holiday celebrating the end of slavery a part of the “regular rhythms of the school,” Coburn says.

Student voice must lead to action

In her doctoral work, Coburn is researching how student-centered learning can eliminate achievement gaps. She recognizes that asking students for feedback but not taking any action is worse than not asking them at all, says Coburn.

“When student voice is shared but not used, it makes students feel disempowered,” Coburn says. “I try to make sure that what they share, we are able to put in place.”

She has worked with the school’s teachers on removing barriers to student voice and using language that gives students more control.


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“We’re clear that we’re not giving them voice,” she says. “Students have always had voice, we just need to move out of the way.”

During school closures, Coburn says she has been meeting with students who have encouraged classmates to share feedback on social media and via email.

As “voice” has played a more prominent role, students have reported in surveys that they feel a stronger sense of belonging and involvement.

“My role is to provide the space and make sure these conversations happen often, and not in reactive ways,” she says.


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.