My passion for a good quality education started in middle school. I went to the Gordon School, a small private school in East Providence, Rhode Island, that really focused on putting students in the center of the classroom. As a quiet and timid student, my middle school teachers pushed me to raise my hand in class, present research projects, and eventually deliver speeches in front of prospective students’ families. This experiential learning approach truly helped me gain the ambition to continue to work on my confidence and leadership in high school. I thought every school was supportive of student voice. I thought every school would love to hear our opinions. I couldn’t have been more incorrect.
In the fall of 2013, I started Classical High School facing huge culture changes in terms of diversity, classroom size, and classroom expectations. Learning became a process of memorization instead of application. I’d take the bus home everyday not only with stress, but with criticism for the public education system. Are all public schools non-personalized? Why don’t I feel engaged in class? What can I do to change this?
I searched outside the walls of Classical to find my answers.
In October of freshman year, I was recruited for an orientation at Young Voices, a non-profit student advocacy organization for education reform in Rhode Island. The activity for new students was a public speaking experience called “Hot Shots.” Each young person was asked a question such as, “who inspires you?” and that student would have to stand up for 60 seconds and answer the question. My question was, “what is one thing that you would improve about your school?” That was the golden question. I stood up and spoke about the lack of personalization and engagement in public schools. I spoke about my middle school and all of the great ideas we could incorporate into the public school system. I have been a member of Young Voices ever since.
My freshman year began to be exciting. I’d wake up early with the curiosity of what I would do at Young Voices after school that day. On some days, I would facilitate Hot Shots, and on other days, I’d deliver a mock testimony. At Young Voices, I was able to experience learning outside of the classroom. I learned about education policy, certain bills, current issues, and with the more I learned, the more I wanted to make a difference. I testified at the Rhode Island Department of Education hearing against standardized tests as a graduation requirement. I spoke as the youth keynote at the Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook Breakfast in front of 600 of Rhode Island’s most influential adults. I even had the opportunity to teach a workshop on restorative justice at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s annual Youth Leadership Institute. I learned that my passion for education reform opened doors for opportunities where I had authentic student voice.
The rewarding part of my work is knowing that I am influencing others to improve the school system, while growing as a leader myself. My voice for change has resonated with policy makers, executive directors, government officials, school staff, parents, and even other students like me. Growing from a timid middle-schooler to a high school advocate, my future has been expanded to hold many opportunities for a career in education reform.