Contributors: John Brandon, Danielle Guerin, Anne West
This fall, 13 focus groups comprised of 146 Marion County youth from diverse backgrounds and life experiences began the difficult process of answering the questions that are vital to our community’s future: what makes a great school and what changes are necessary to have great schools in every neighborhood, for every student, in Marion County?
For one Shortridge Magnet High School student, answering the latter question was simple: “The greatest change that needs to happen is for what we suggested here today [during the focus group] to actually come true.”
The 2012 “What’s Possible?” effort led by IPS Superintendent Dr. Eugene White, Deputy Mayor of Education Jason Kloth, and community partners, (The NAACP, The Mind Trust, STAND for Children, Mayor Greg Ballard, IPS, The Indianapolis Urban League, La Plaza, United Negro College Fund, and the United Way of Central Indiana) established a precedent that the future of Marion County Schools will be informed by and accountable to community members. On October 31st MCCOY released a complementary report with additional information on the 13 youth “What’s Possible” focus groups as well as recommended next steps for youth, parents, community members, and youth workers.
Marion County youth answered the call to lend their voice to the education reform effort. Now it’s our community’s responsibility to assure that their requests are held in the highest regard, and that youth have a presence at the table for decisions still to come about education reform. If we fail to listen to the suggestions they offered in good faith to the community-wide discussion about the future of education, we will be ignoring some of the most informed of all the players involved in the education sector.
We know that engaging youth voice and choice in their learning environments leads to positive learning outcomes and heightened engagement. According to a 2009 study from the Indiana Department of Education, one of every three students who dropped out of Indiana schools did so because of a lack of interest. Engaging a wide range of students in conversations around school reform could invigorate students, both encouraging them to believe that school is a worthwhile place to be and that advanced education can and will support their future endeavors.
Youth in the focus groups echoed this idea, identifying that all parties—teachers, administrators, parents and especially youth—must be part of a collaborative, community wide reform effort to create great schools for every student. They saw that every voice and every segment of the community had a role to play if we are going to have schools and an education system that supports each student’s academic and personal growth.
How do we help our community have great schools for all?
- Read MCCOY’s report with focus group recommendations and consider your role in furthering the opportunities for youth voice in education reform efforts.
- Conduct your own focus groups on education with youth in your area or neighborhood
- Advocate strongly for our various education reform groups to seek youth representation in education reform efforts.
- Encourage our newly elected school board to hold listening sessions with focus groups of students from a wide variety of experiences within the school system
At MCCOY, we believe that the best solutions result when all voices are respectfully listened to and all points of view are taken into account. That is one reason we are encouraged by the “What’s Possible” effort, and we urge the whole community to find its place at the table as solutions are proposed to make all our schools truly great places that value learning and all the students who pursue it.