Lost in the conversations surrounding education are often the voice of those being educated — the students.
By introducing the Pittsburgh Student Bill of Rights, a group of high school students is trying to make their voice heard and change what they perceive as the notion that they are “just kids.”
“Teenagers are given the thing like, ‘We don’t care what happens in our schools, and we don’t care about anything that’s going on, all we want to do is graduate,’ but that’s wrong,” said Amma Ababio, a junior at Taylor Allderdice High School. “We do care about what’s going on, we do want to make a positive change in our schools and we want to make life in Pittsburgh Public Schools better for the people that come after us.”
The proposed bill of students' rights includes:
- Right to free expression
- Right to participate in decisions that affect their education
- Right to equitable academic resources
- Right to a socially, emotionally, and physically safe and positive school climate
- Right to inclusive teaching and learning environments in our classrooms
- Right to be treated with respect and dignity by the school community
- Right to effective teachers
- Right to positive school disciplinary policies and practices
- Right to equitable access to accelerated classes and academic counseling
- Right to efficient transportation
A “We Deserve to Be Served” campaign is now underway at Pittsburgh Public High Schools to get students to vote to ratify the bill of rights, and Ababio said at least 2,000 votes are needed. After that, the Pittsburgh Student Bill of Rights will be presented to the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board.
“In January we want to have nine representatives from each of the high schools to go up and testify at the school board hearing, because in January the new school board members are coming in,” Ababio said. “We want them to see that students want to make an active role in the decisions that affect their education, and we want them to be adopted in the new student code of conduct that is currently being revised.”
The effort is spearheaded by TeenBloc, a coalition of student leaders and organizers in Pittsburgh’s high schools that aims to affect positive change. TeenBloc is a program of education advocacy group A + Schools, which seeks to ensure that students and families are involved in the education process.
“Students should have, especially our high school students, they should be involved in those decisions that affect them the most,” said Pam Little-Poole with A+ Schools. “Once they are involved, I trust you you will have their buy-in and engagement.”
Students can vote on the bill of right now through Nov. 4. Representatives from the group TeenBloc will be available at local high schools to collect votes, and students will be able to vote either at lunch time, during assemblies or advisory periods. A social media campaign will try to get the message to as many students as possible.