There’s a phrase you may hear in education circles – particularly in Kentucky – called student voice. Student voice is the idea that students should have some say about how their education takes place.
Kentucky has long been a national leader in the importance we place on student voice. We have placed a lot of trust in the students who help advise us on complicated matters in education, and without exception, that trust has been well placed.
For many years, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has had a Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council. Hundreds of students from across Kentucky apply each year to get a seat on the council, which meets monthly to provide deep insights into what students need and how decisions being made at the state level will affect them in their classroom.
These students were vital participants in my virtual listening tour, held earlier this year to gather input on what Kentuckians feel is and is not working in public education today. Students led each of our breakout rooms and conducted in-depth – and sometimes emotional – discussions using a skill called empathy interviewing. The results of those discussions are a key source of information being used by the Kentucky Coalition for Advancing Education to help create KDE’s new strategic plan.
Student voice is so important in Kentucky that House Bill 178, which was signed into law in April, gives students a permanent seat on the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE). The bill requires that KBE’s student representative must be selected from a different congressional district each year on a rotating basis. Members of the Student Advisory Council will have the role of choosing three applicants to recommend to the KBE, which will then collectively decide the final candidate.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman also has met with the Student Advisory Council to help her shape the student mental health roundtables that will be held across the Commonwealth this fall. These sessions will be a deep dive into how students are doing and what kind of supports they may need in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students will present their findings at the Kentucky Education Summit, scheduled for Nov. 1-2 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.
Too often we think of education as something we do to or for our students. I believe that education is a partnership between students and the education community. Our students, in a very real sense, are our customers. Who better to provide us insight into how our policies and procedures are affecting the students we serve on a daily basis?
Going forward, I will continue to seek the input and counsel of our students. By working together – KDE, KBE, families, students and communities – we can and will forge a brighter tomorrow for all of Kentucky’s public school students.