A UCLA study of the East Side Union High School District in San Jose found that giving students a larger voice in policy and budget decisions is achievable and beneficial, both for students and the district.
When given power and leadership opportunities, youth leaders defied teachers' and administrators' low expectations and "adultist beliefs" and enriched conversations with their own perspectives and experiences, the study, "Nothing About Us Without Us," concluded.
The UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools focused on the efforts of students affiliated with Californians for Justice, a student empowerment organization with chapters in Oakland, San Jose, Fresno and Long Beach, to effect change. There are chapters in four of East Side Union's 12 high schools.
The district and students created formal channels for communication that the report said could be a model for other districts: a student advisory committee for the Local Control Advisory Plan, the district's primary spending document, which meets monthly with district administrators; a student survey to which students contributed questions, that focuses on equity issues; and a relationship-centered school model, being piloted in several schools, that works on school culture.
Students saw the adoption of changes they pressed for: more counselors and social workers; Wellness Wednesdays, time for students to work on building relationships, and the removal of security officers from all high schools -- it was one of the first districts to do so.
The habits of civic involvement must be developed in high school, said East Side Superintendent Glenn Vander Zee. Engaging students, he said, "not only changed the questions that were being asked but made the nature of the conversation richer."