My Work in Schools
Just over 20 years ago, I was a high school sophomore who began a organizing my friends in our urban, low-income, predominantly African American neighborhood in a Midwestern city focused on improving our school. After leading the campaign for three years, I stopped trying to fix schools until I was 25. That year I was hired by the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction as their first-ever student engagement specialist. Over the next two years I organized a statewide action research project focused on defining and promoting student engagement in formal school reform.
Recently, I was asked whether I’d done actual work in schools. As frequent readers of my blog know, I write a lot about my thoughts of student voice, student engagement, and Meaningful Student Involvement. Oftentimes this writing reflects my bachelor’s studies in critical pedagogy at The Evergreen State College. Sometimes they show the graduate work I did on educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Washington. However, my writing doesn’t come completely from left-field academic land.
Almost always, I try to begin my writing by examining my own experiences in schools. I have worked with more than 300 K-12 schools across the US and in Canada focused Meaningful Student Involvement since leaving the State government.
My Projects in Schools
Following is a sample of the work I’ve done in schools over the last decade plus. This isn’t meant to be a brag, so much as it is to demonstrate that I’m writing and critiquing my own work first, and others’ second. I’m the first to admit that most of the following projects weren’t 100% successful; moreover, I readily acknowledge they’re riddled with challenges and outright failure at times.
However, this is my work with schools, and I accept my responsibility and inability in equal measure. By listing this I hope to inspire responses from any detractors who might think I don’t have the credentials needed to analyze the student voice movement.
- The Youth Alliance. From 2011 to 2014, I consulted Educational Service District 113 in Olympia, Washington, to implement a five-county collective impact project focused on student engagement. Leading the planning team, I helped a group of education and nonprofit leaders identify shared goals, develop common measurements, assess potential needs, and devise processes for ensuring the effectiveness of the effort. I also facilitated several gatherings and maintained regular communications with partners on behalf of the Youth Alliance.
- SoundOut Youth Leadership Institute. In the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, I have supported Catalyst Miami (formerly Miami/Dade County Human Service Coalition) in implementing the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum I wrote. Working in two high needs public high schools in the city, Catalyst Miami has served more than 400 students. They have learned essential social change skills while improving the schools and communities they live in and learn at everyday.
- Meaningful Student Involvement in 21st Century Community Learning Centers. For the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, ESD 123 in Pasco, Washington contracted with me to provide a year-long series of trainings focused on integrating Meaningful Student Involvement into 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs. More than 40 participants attended almost 24 hours of professional development throughout the year. Topics covered included student-adult partnerships, the Cycle of Engagement, my Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement, and more. I also introduced a new component to each of the training events focused on personal engagement in schools, and how each individual participants’ perception of schools affects how they interact with learners. Each participant made plans for action, and were provided technical assistance by myself throughout the year. In 2012-13, more than a dozen districts in ESD 123 were trained to use the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum. Serving more than 5,000 students in K-12 settings throughout southeast Washington, these sites have the potential to impact more than a dozen schools while using the tools I created.
- SpeakOUT Student Engagement Initiative. I consulted the Student Engagement Initiative at the Alberta Ministry of Education in Edmonton during 2010 and 2011. Teaching the Ministry staff about my Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement, I consulted them on next steps and possibilities for the initiative. I shared an extensive student engagement research review I wrote, and detailed international best practices for them from the US, the UK, and Australia. In 2011, I keynoted at their annual conference for 700 students, teachers, administrators, and Dave Hancock, the then-Alberta Minister of Education.
- National PTA Youth Leadership and Policy Institute. I contracted with the National PTA in 2010 and 2011 to plan and facilitate a Youth Leadership and Policy Institute. The National PTA contracted with me to design a program focused on engaging high school and college students as education policy advocates. The National PTA Public Policy Team wanted to move students from being the passive recipients of school decision-makers to active partners. Writing the program from scratch, Adam worked with experts in PTA’s training office to refine the program and then piloted it at the 2011 National PTA Legislative Conference. The 16-hour curriculum was tested with a national audience of high school and college students.
- Youth On Board in Boston Public Schools. In 2006-07 I supported the national nonprofit Youth On Board as they continued and expanded their efforts to promote systemic youth engagement in Boston Public Schools. I partnered with Youth On Board (YOB) to provide resources and develop case studies focused on the Boston Student Voice Project. Working through the district Office of High School Reform, YOB facilitated the Boston Student Advisory Council for three years to that point. They also coordinated the district-wide Student Engagement Advisory Council (SEAC). YOB assisted with the development of small learning communities in the former Hyde Park High School by facilitating a strategic student voice plan in the school. SoundOut supported these efforts in an ongoing basis with technical assistance and critical evaluations. My work supported Youth On Board activities in several schools and district programs. They included Monument High School, the Social Justice Academy, The Engineering School, Community Academy of Science and Health, the Boston Student Advisory Council, and the Student Engagement Advisory Council. Learn more about the project here.
- Changing SPACES. I contracted with the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Title V and Innovative Programs to facilitate the Changing SPACES (Students Partnering to Advocate for Change in Environments in Schools) in 2006. Partnering with staff from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Title V and Innovative Programs to coordinate and facilitate a statewide project for 10 high schools focused on involving students in creating environments in schools that engage students. Activities included professional development for educators and administrators, training for students, and evaluations of school projects. Schools recognized as “partners” completed all activities in the project. Partner schools included Colfax High School, Harbor High School (Aberdeen), and Wishkah Valley High School.
- New York State Student Support Services Center. In 2006-07 and 2007-08 I contracted with the New York State Student Support Services Center in LeRoy, New York through SoundOut. With a powerful emphasis on meaningful student involvement, SoundOut provided expert guidance on school improvement. I provided ongoing training and technical assistance to the NYS Student Support Services Center as they implemented a statewide initiative focused on meaningful student involvement. Activities included keynote presentations and individual school consultations at a number of workshops across the state, as well as ongoing technical assistance in the form of conference calls and site visits. Outcomes included the development of a replicable statewide strategy for engaging and sustaining meaningful student involvement in school improvement. I also worked with a number of BOCES focused on student voice, student engagement, and related topics as part of this project.
- Seattle Student Equity Project. In the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years I developed, launched, and directed theSeattle Student Equity Project as a partnership of SoundOut and the Seattle Public Schools Office of Equity and Race Relations. I worked with eight high schools in Seattle to create, develop, and support Student Equity Teams focused on Meaningful Student Involvement and race relations in high schools across the city. The Seattle Student Equity Project focused on several themes: Equity and Race Relations: Bringing communities together through open dialogue and honest reflection around what is meant by racism and the impact is has on our society and more specifically, students. Student Voice: Engaging the perspectives and actions of young people in educational activities that partner students with adults to improve schools. Service Learning: Combining powerful opportunities to help others with substantial classroom learning goals.Every Student Equity Team will be invited to participate in a program that includes four components: Ongoing Training: Students and adults focused on each project theme in order to increase the capacity through knowledge-sharing and skill-building; Student-Led Evaluations: Student perspectives about equity and race relations in Seattle Public Schools; Service Learning Projects Designed, implemented, and evaluated by students in response to student-led evaluations, and; Cross-School Collaborations: Through monthly meetings and training that encourage students to share experiences and brainstorm responses.
- HumanLinks Foundation. From 2004 to 2008 I contracted with theHumanLinks Foundation, a small family foundation in north Seattle, to develop foundation goals, knowledge, and activities to support meaningful student involvement throughout education. SoundOut assisted in the development and implementation of an activity-oriented approach towards meaningful student involvement. Activities included the development of a strategic plan, ongoing consultation, project development and management, and evaluation. Specific activities included supporting New Horizons for Learning’s student voice initiative, a Seattle Public Schools high school student project, and activities in local schools. Resources developed include the SoundOut website, the Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Inclusive School Change, Stories of Meaningful Student Involvement,Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide, the Meaningful Student Involvement Resource Guide, and the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum.
- Small Schools Project. I contracted with the Small Schools Project in Seattle in 2004-05. SoundOut provided introductory training in meaningful student involvement for 25+ small schools coaches, as well as an intensive training in meaningful student involvement for 50+ students and adults focused on planning for meaningful student involvement in their local small school projects. Included the creation of a chapter in School Culture: An Introduction published by Small Schools Project.
- Student-Driven School Improvement Planning Project. I partnered with the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction School Improvement Planning Program in Olympia to provide a Meaningful Student Involvement Initiative from 2003-05. Partners also included Yakima Public Schools and the Washington State University Center for Bridging the Digital Divide. Statewide pilot project in 45 elementary, middle, and senior high schools in 12 districts. The projects were solely focused on meaningful student involvement in federally-mandated school improvement. Developed from the project, the Frameworks for meaningful student involvement adapted by U.S. Department of Education. SoundOut provided ongoing training and technical assistance to school improvement coaches and lead improvement coaches in 75+ schools across Washington State. Included the development of a chapter in the School Improvement Planning Process Guide published by OSPI.
- SoundOut Pilot Project. I worked with a number of partner agencies, schools, and the state education agency to facilitate the SoundOut School Improvement Planning Pilot Project. Elementary, middle, and high schools across Washington State joined in student voice training, programs, and evaluations regarding the role of students in formal school improvement activities. From 2003 to 2006, SoundOut worked in elementary, middle, and high schools across Washington State to facilitate training, programs, and evaluations regarding the role of students in formal school improvement activities. We created professional development, student training, whole-school forums, and systemic evaluations of student voice and meaningful student involvement. Funding was provided by the HumanLinks Foundation, with additional support from Yakima Public Schools, and the Center for Bridging the Digital Divide. Pilot schools included Lewis and Clark Middle School (Yakima, WA) SoundOut facilitated a school improvement planning process for 35 traditional and nontraditional student leaders, 10 teachers, and several administrators focused integrating student voice in school improvement. The 750 students in this urban school all participated in a student co-designed survey. Afterwards, students analyzed the data, identified their priorities, and presented information to building and district leaders. Ridgeview Elementary School (Yakima, WA) SoundOut facilitated a school improvement planning process for 25 students and 5 teacher-partners. Participants completed training on student voice and co-designed a survey with their school improvement facilitator. Afterwards, they created action plans that will sustain an annual student team focused on school improvement in their building. Spanaway Elementary School (Bothell, WA) SoundOut facilitated several training programs for students and educators at Spanaway focused on student voice and service learning. Dayton High School (Dayton, WA) SoundOut facilitated training in meaningful student involvement for 20 student leaders, who then facilitated student voice forums for every student in this rural eastern Washington school. Those forums led to the creation of four action plans that were presented to the student body. Friday Harbor High School (Friday Harbor, WA) SoundOut facilitated a school improvement planning process focused on meaningful student involvement in this rural island high school. School-wide forums and classes led by students brought a new commitment among students and teachers to promote student voice at the school. At the Secondary Academy for Success (Bothell, WA) SoundOut provided training to nontraditional student leaders at this alternative high school in suburban Seattle. After facilitating a school-wide forum for 150 students on school improvement in Spring 2003, students have joined committees and made reports to the school board on how they think schools should change.
- Washington Youth Leadership & Service Team. From 2002 to 2006, I contracted with the Washington State Learn & Serve America program. I provided expert training, consultation, and evaluation for 50 schools statewide. I partnered with OSPI’s service learning coordinator to provide training and technical assistance focused on meaningful student involvement in service learning for 50+ K-12 schools across Washington. Activities included training students and educators in student voice and evaluating service learning programs in local schools. Outcomes from the project also included the creation of the Meaningful Student Involvement Idea Guide, printed by OSPI. An additional contract led to the publishing of the Washington Youth Voice Handbook by CommonAction. Partner schools included Vashon Island Student Link Alternative School, Vashon; Spanaway Elementary School, Spanaway; Langley Middle School, Langley; Evergreen High School, Vancouver; and Lewis and Clark High School, Spokane.
All this is to say that I’m not making this stuff up. Instead, it’s meant to be a conscientious examination of a field that I love and appreciate deeply. I have horror stories and failures. I’m simply trying to share my mistakes, and challenge in a critical joyfulness to succeed where I’ve failed.
If anyone, anywhere, ever would like to talk about any of this, please contact me.