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Student Decision-making

You have the right to have a say in how your school is run

One of the most significant ways that young people can exert control over their education is by having academic freedom. However, students can also be active participants in their education in other ways, ranging from choosing which learning environment suits them, to being able to participate in the school board, to having a say in school policies. Such involvement in decision-making empowers students with the ability to influence their schools and their educational experience.

School discipline

Some schools have implemented programs such as restorative justice, in which students come up with their own solutions when they’ve been hurt by other students. This new approach to disciplinary policy began as a unified effort between students, educators, and parents to provide a healthy alternative to “zero tolerance” policies that treat students like criminals rather than giving them the tools and resources to be successful both inside and outside the classroom. Restorative justice programs have fostered lasting relationships between students and teachers, and have motivated students to become engaged in their learning experience. This new approach to school discipline has already taken root in 21 Oakland schools, including Ralph J. Bunche High School, which has seen its suspension rate drop from 12% to 8% in one year. It has served as a testament to the meaningful role that students can play in their own education. It also shows that students can become involved in school policy and take steps toward taking control of their learning environment.

Lunch menu options

Students rightfully want control over what goes into their bodies. Unfortunately, schools and federal regulations have tried to restrict the food students can access. In response, students have protested decreases in caloric content of lunches and even organized boycotts. Sometimes students are allowed to weigh in on their cafeteria menu—though they almost never have the final say. Orange County Public Schools, in an attempt to give students increased control over what goes into their bodies, have begun hosting Student Food Shows. During these events, 400 elementary, middle, and high school students are invited to sample potential additions to school menus. Those items with the highest approval rating are taken into further consideration by the county before a final decision is made. Offering nutritious food in schools is immensely important, but healthy students don’t just have access to wholesome meals—they also have choices.

Starting times

School should begin at a time that fits into students’ schedules. This is important both for their lives and responsibilities outside of school and especially for their health. Sometimes students feel that their school days start too late, while others feel that their schools start too early. Either way, students should be the ones who decide what time their school day begins.

Students in Montgomery County, Maryland, appeared at a school board meeting in their pajamas to protest their school’s early start time. They also gathered outside the Carver Educational Services Center, where the school board was meeting, carrying signs and calling for the board to reconsider their decision to forgo pushing back high school start times 50 minutes. These protesters also started a petition in favor of Montgomery County High School students beginning at 8:15 a.m. More than 11,700 people have signed this petition.

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