This is the second article in a four-part series on Progressive education at St. Francis School.
By Suzanne Gorman, Associate Head of School – Downtown Campus
As a Progressive school, we place a particular emphasis on student voice, believing that from the earliest ages, students should be advocates for themselves, respected for their opinions, and heard on school matters that affect them. At the High School, our teenagers (naturally) have no shortage of things to say, and we welcome and take their input seriously, both in and out of the classroom.
Students weigh in on academic issues ranging from what kinds of electives they’d like to take to choices on projects within a given class. Frequently, teachers survey or speak with students to find out what they’d most like to see offered in the coming semester’s course catalog. For instance, this is how our Babylonian Language elective this year came to pass and is often how various focus areas within Film Studies are chosen. On an individual level, each spring, 11th graders choose areas to study for their Senior Projects, topics that can really be just about anything they are interested in pursuing and researching for the coming year. Even the existence of supervised study periods (to help student-athletes stay caught up on coursework instead of taking Fitness class when they are in season on a sport) is owed to a student idea from a decade or so ago.
Students also participate in decision-making on all kinds of major school matters. There were High School (and Middle School) students on the Name Change Exploration Committee. We are in the process of hiring a new College Counselor, and a representative group of 11th and 12th graders meets with each candidate for a lunch period and then shares their feedback with us afterward. Last year, a student brought forward a suggested change to the discipline system, instituting a more robust Student Court. We held presentations and listening sessions with each grade and ultimately adopted it (and the Student Court has been an absolutely effective and worthwhile endeavor).
Student groups, particularly those focused on DEIB work, bring in speakers, plan programs, and more. An ad hoc group has just sprung up to help fundraise for Ukraine relief efforts by making ribbons that will be sold at the High School and Middle School. Individual students bring forward topic and program ideas as well; just recently a student approached our Counselor, TuNice Cole, with an idea for an upcoming Connections group conversation. The student was met with swift agreement and is helping to design the parameters for that discussion.
To genuinely hear student voices requires engagement from the adults around them, as well as a willingness to take action based on what we hear. At St. Francis School, to quote the Mandalorian, this is, simply, “the way.”