San Dieguito’s Student Forum

Given the chance to talk and listen students become adults.

One of my very favorite parts of San Dieguito is our monthly student forum. Unfettered from adults or official ASB guidance, students at SDA gather together in the art studio, a space large enough to hold multitudes, to talk about the topics on their minds.

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Sometimes the ideas are big ones: How do we help integrate all grade levels for a more cohesive school? Other times the topics are profoundly practical: We need more toilet paper in the girls’ bathrooms! From time to time my role as principal puts me in the hot seat: We need more student parking. We do. Often the kindness of the students astounds me, as when a student addressing our visiting superintendent compared me to Beyoncé. Huh? …and thanks!

Mostly, the forum is an opportunity for students to have a voice in the life of their school.

IMG_6162Without shouting or having to mount a podium and fiddle with a microphone, every student, not just elected officials, has equal access to all her fellow students. The audience listens, really listens, students write down what is being said, and the audience responds respectfully. It is an exercise in democratic free speech that is inspirational.

Traditionally, two student moderators lead the forum, standing in front of a group well fed with pizzas provided by ASB. A blank document is projected on a screen at one end of the room, a place for notes, a list of topics suggested by the students, and announcements. It’s a document that will be shared with the staff as soon as the forum is over.

Not that staff isn’t there… Every forum all four of our administrators, many teachers, counselors, and classified staff join students at the forum to listen, answer questions, and hear about San Dieguito from a student point of view.

IMG_4364This point of view, or perhaps better said these points of view, are spoken, not shouted. Students are passionate about what they are saying, but the norms of the forum, built over years, are expectations of respect, kindness, and patience. Freshmen speak, seniors too, and students and staff listen to what they have to say.

The results can be immediate (more toilet paper), take a little longer (parking solutions), be subtle or transformative. Regardless of what comes out of a student forum, however, it is the existence of such a tradition that makes the biggest difference.

Any school is a better place when students are heard. Strong student newspapers are one way of sharing student perspectives, vibrant student governments are another, and here at San Dieguito it’s amazing to know that there is a place for every student to share her point of view. Our school is richer because if it!

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Meatless Mondays, Construction Pathways, and Toilet Paper

Where but a Student Forum at San Dieguito HS Academy would students, administrators, and teachers talk about mindfulness, vegetarianism, and stocking the shelves in the girls’ bathroom all in the same meeting? I shouldn’t be amazed by our monthly Student Forum; I’ve written about them before and know that they’re as much a part of our campus community as public art or the Homeroom Olympics, but I can’t help but be moved when I see democracy in action and student voice put front and center in the greater discussion of this place we call home.

photo (4)Today’s forum was interesting in the fact that it followed a morning of student speeches at our ASB nominating convention. The assembly that saw these student hopefuls speak to their peers about their vision for our school was a great example of the creativity that exemplifies our school. Passionate, purposeful, and plucky, the speeches ranged from besuited and polished to casual and irreverent. One student had his head shaved while he read off reasons he deserved votes, another led the crowd through a literal step to the left and step to the right (“I was told I needed to give a moving speech,” she explained, “So I did.”), and another ended his appeal for votes with a limber transition into the splits.

Each of these candidates showed a love for their school and a commitment to “keeping SDA funky.” Whoever wins, our school will be in good hands.

Part of the reason for San Dieguito’s special culture is the fact that it isn’t only the elected student officers who get to have a hand in the direction our school takes. Students at large are empowered to make their voices heard in a variety of ways. By the time I got back to my office after the forum, I had a tweet from a student asking about why a drinking fountain had been turned off. I tweeted back that I’d find out, and I’m hopeful to have an answer for him (and any other students on Twitter) by the end of the day. Other students stop me (and my assistant principals) at games and during intermission in the lobby of the performing arts center with questions and comments that help us as we strive to be sensitive stewards of this special place.

photo (5)The crown jewel of our San Dieguito HS Academy democracy is the forum. The freedom to talk about any subject and to do so in a real and honest way helps to define our school culture. Just as important is the fact that great crowds of students, teachers, and administrators not only know they can speak, but know how important it is that they listen.

I look forward to every forum, and see each as an opportunity for me to learn how best to help guide San Dieguito HS Academy in the direction that benefits students most. Today that meant talking about the possibility of chalking arrows on the ground to help with pedestrian traffic, arranging a meeting between students and our food service folks, and putting priority on replenishing toilet paper in the girls’ restrooms.

I wish every principal could be so fortunate as to have this kind of ongoing student input. I know that I’m thankful for the strong voice of a thoughtful student body and a school where that voice is given a forum to be heard.