Here’s where student voice inspires eighth-grade activism

Superintendent’s 8th Grade Council offers plenty of insight into how students are feeling
By: | July 31, 2020
Students in Arizona’s Pendergast Elementary School District learn to build positive relationships with adults when they are asked to give input on various educational and social issues.Students in Arizona’s Pendergast Elementary School District learn to build positive relationships with adults when they are asked to give input on various educational and social issues.

The members of the Superintendent’s 8th Grade Council in Arizona’s Pendergast Elementary School District get a behind the scenes look at how schools and education operate.

They have role in planning annual budgets, attend education conferences with district leaders and help organize the system’s annual kick-off extravaganza, Superintendent Lily Matos DeBlieux says.

“I mentor them all year,” DeBlieux says. “They’re my ambassadors in the school.”

The council’s members also provide DeBlieux with plenty of insight into how their classmates are feeling, including their concerns about reopening schools during the COVID-19 outbreak.


More from DA: SEL priority—Students must feel safe before they can learn


“They know more than we do,” DeBlieux says. “They tell us the way they want to learn and why something’s effective.”

The council members also spread awareness about the district’s hotline for students in crisis and are involved in their school’s Speak Up Stand Up Save a Life club, which addresses bullying, drug use, the LGBTQ community and other social-emotional issues.

DeBlieux chooses two eighth-graders from each of her 12 schools to serve on the council. The students are initially nominated by teachers and must complete an interview process that includes members of the outgoing council.

The council elects two of its members to serve on the district’s school board. These two students give reports to the board about various district matters.

Another one of DeBlieux’s priorities for the council is to get the students, about 80 percent of whom come from low socio-economic families, thinking about college.

“Kids are not only resilient, they are honest, and they know what’s best for them” she says. “But they need to know they are just as capable of being leaders in this world and going to elite universities. It just takes someone to believe in them.”

Read the other stories in our series on student voice:

  1. How Chicago’s 200 student voice committees solve problems
  2. Student voice creates a greater sense of belonging and diversity 
  3. How a superintendent builds a ‘high level of student voice’
  4. 4 stories of how student voice is growing in volume