PULSE: How Education Activists Are Changing Students’ Voices

Treasure Rogers is one of several Jefferson County Public Schools students who attended a school board forum last year. It was organized by two young education activists who just thought it would be cool to hold a forum in which students could participate.

“I asked a question and the candidates seemed like they really liked the question and they gave great feedback. So I’m like, how can we now act on it because you can’t change nothing if you just say it. You have to make actions to build upon for a change so how can I do that?” she says.

The student voice is underrepresented in most conversations about education. But now, Kelby Price and Brandon McReynolds are working with Jefferson County Public Schools to create an outlet for students.

The project is called Pulse and was developed after the positive response from school board candidates last year, says McReynolds.

“Our idea is that we’re taking the pulse, diagnosing the student population,” he says.

It’s a work in progress, but McReynolds has met with representatives at Fern Creek and Shawnee high schools and they’re trying to recruit more schools. The project also includes the private Kentucky Country Day School and Youth Build.

Over the next month they plan to meet with small groups of students to talk about education and ways it may improve.

McReynolds says by the end of February the groups will create an online survey that students at each of the schools can take.

“All of them won’t have the same issues, but we want them to be able to know that they can come together and help each other, raise each other’s voice,” he says.

At the forum, students asked questions that were different than those asked by adults and the media during the campaign, McReynolds says.

“That really was surprising that there wasn’t much of an overlap. There was some, but students weren’t saying the exact same thing as parents were and I think they were really surprised about that,” he says.

This is also what the three incoming board members told WFPL, that hearing the students was helpful, and that they asked some of the more challenging questions.

But for students like Treasure, Pulse represents how student leaders can develop and how the student voice can become a more integral part of the education conversation.

“If you’re making some type of product and you don’t know how your customers feel about your product then you don’t know what you need to change, you don’t know if it’s effective or if it’s ineffective. We’re like the guinea pigs on what they’re trying to do. So if they implement something new and it works, why change it. But if we’re seeing right now that it’s not working and this is not what we want to get out then we need to find another outlet,” she says.

For McReynolds the project is a no-brainer. But he says raising the student voice isn’t always obvious for those looking at education from outside the classroom.

“Why hasn’t it ever been done before?” he asks. “They [students] may remember and know things because they’re still in it that we as adults have grown up and may have forgotten aspects about school,” he says.

The goal is to develop the surveys in more schools and eventually to get students to sit down with school board members face to face. 

Treasure says once an effective system is in place the education conversation will improve.

“I don’t want other voices not to be heard, because if you can’t hear other people’s opinions then you can’t truly grow,” she says.

This story was produced for The Next Louisville education project.

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama host middays for WFPL and reports on education and other Louisville issues.

@DevinWFPL

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