SOT Story: Student Voice Matters


"You can be whatever you want to be."

My fourth graders this year love social justice.
It started with a unit on civics. We studied voting rights, the abolitionist movement, and women’s suffrage. For months we discussed the history of voting rights in the United States, what they deemed as fair, unfair, and flat-out wrong. At times discussions would get intense. I encouraged them to use their words to teach others and to listen and respect each other even if their opinions differed. This ended up being one of the coolest things I had seen my students do all year.
My students felt that their opinions on issues important to them mattered not only in our classroom but in their school's community. They loved being able to contribute their voice and opinions to issues that affected them and their school. 

Around the time we were working on a Public Service Announcement project in class, our school’s School Organizational Team (SOT) had petitioned to the Board of Trustees requesting that the school be able to hire outside vendors for custodial services. I saw that the playground was an issue that would be discussed at an upcoming SOT meeting. When I asked my students if they wanted to get involved with this issue it was an overwhelming yes.
My students drafted a letter to the Board of Trustees and our school’s SOT requesting that all three of the school's playgrounds be fixed. They discussed and debated the most important concerns they had with the playgrounds. In the end, they crafted a letter that they were all proud of. I explained to them that they could help others be aware of the issues affecting their everyday life with this small act of activism. 
At the SOT meeting, one of my students read the letter requesting new and safer playgrounds. Shortly after their letters were on the local news. Showing my students the news clip and watching them get excited was incredible. Someone had listened to and responded to an issue that mattered to them. Needless to say, they felt like rock stars. 

I noticed a huge shift in the classroom right away after the segment about their letters aired on the news. They had this newfound sense of empowerment. Their voices mattered and they felt valued. They were able to share their project, something they cared about with not only with their schools SOT but the entire city.
It was here my classes expressed an interest in learning more about how the SOT came into existence. They wanted to learn more about a bill that made their opinions feel valued. Eventually, that led to lessons on how a bill becomes law which then led to a discussion about the Nevada Assembly, the Senate, and the Governor. 
To say my classes loved the Governor would be an understatement.

Every day I had “Governor” written on the board under our daily objectives my kids celebrated. They saw him as a person who made it possible to have their voice heard through their activism with the SOT. This was powerful to them because they felt represented. 
My fourth graders invited the Governor to come to our school to discuss their activism through the SOT and he accepted their invitation. 
Watching my students meet their hero was magical. Their activism brought the Governor to their school. He looked right at them and said, “You can be whatever you want to be. I was no different than any of you. I promise you. I was no different.”
The day after he visited my fourth graders were whispering to each other, “We can do anything.” They believed it. I started seeing it in their work, their writing, and their conversations.
As a result of their activism through our school SOT, nine other schools are getting new blacktops too. Their activism empowered them. I still hear them saying we can do anything. 

They really can.