Within our community, students, parents and administrators alike have been asking the same questions for years: How do we close the achievement gap? How do we put an end to the school to prison pipeline? Is it possible to achieve those goals? As an individual, and especially as a young person, I didn’t always feel like I had a platform to engage in these conversations, until I found a local coalition that helped connect me and elevate my voice.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched multiple organizations provide ideas for effectively closing the achievement gap and addressing anything else that may hinder a students progress. This of course is positive, but one campaign in particular caught my attention: Solutions Not Suspensions.
I remember walking into my first SNS meeting in August of last year not really knowing what to expect. There were a million questions running through my head. What is Solutions Not Suspensions? How long have they been around? What do they do? I soon came to find out that the SNS coalition was (and is) part of the national Dignity In Schools Campaign (DSC).
This campaign addresses the disproportionate impact of suspensions and expulsions on low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities and LGBT+ students. Through this group I have been able to do a great number of things, but I’m going to list key events that gave me real opportunities to get engaged:
- School Walk-In: This took place during our annual week of action where we did community service/events each day of the week. On Friday, there was a nation-wide walk-in. During this event, me and a few other classmates and members of the community held signs and handed out flyers to students, staff and parents walking by. A few minutes before the bell was about to ring, we all came together and walked inside the school. This served as a symbol of unity and demand for policy change regarding school discipline.
- Annual Dignity In Schools Campaign Meeting: I had the opportunity to fly to Los Angeles to attend the annual meeting of DSC last April. In this meeting, organizations from all over the country met to discuss the future of DSC. We spoke of our budget and the week of action, had trainings in how to effectively bring change to our communities and elected new members for the national coordinating committee of the DSC.
- Annual DSC Coordinating Committee Retreat: At the DSC annual meeting previously mentioned, my adult partner from SNS was elected to be on the National Coordinating Committee of DSC. Serving as her youth representative, I traveled with her to Washington DC this past July to attend the annual coordinating committee retreat. During this retreat we went in depth on our budget for the upcoming year, discussed the hiring of a campaign director and had meetings with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee at the Capitol.
All of these opportunities have helped me grow and contribute to my school. During the walk-in, I spoke with my principal and one of my vice principals about when and where I would host the event. I also voiced my concerns regarding discipline in our school and how it is affecting our students in ways that may not be easy to notice at first. I proposed positive alternative programs we could implement, ensuring that suspensions and expulsions were not used unless absolutely necessary.
I know that getting started on advocating for education reform is hard, especially for youth like me, and I can say that joining SNS has shaped me as a person and has helped me gain the skills I needed to continue working within my neighborhood.
SNS helped me become an education advocate and demand alternatives to how we do school discipline across Minnesota. There are other ways to improve our school environments and the success of students that come from marginalized communities that may not necessarily be related to school discipline. There are other groups that focus on bringing in more extracurriculars and more teachers of color, and groups just trying to promote education as a whole. Some of these groups include the Minnesota Youth Council, Minnesota Education Equity Partnership, MinnCAN, GradMinnesota and many more.
As an individual, I had no experience speaking to others in positions of authority, finding important data or even knowing how to articulate what I wanted to say clearly. These organizations provide a platform to engage in this type of work and offer countless opportunities to speak with leaders in your community so you can work together and make change. I highly encourage reaching out to groups that focus on education to become an advocate for the students in your community.
I know that getting started on advocating for education reform is hard, especially for youth like me, and I can say that joining SNS has shaped me as a person and has helped me gain the skills I needed to continue working within my neighborhood. Because of my experiences and evidence of personal growth from this, I will always recommend that other youth or community members get involved with groups like these. I guarantee that it will open opportunities for you and support you on your journey for change!
Coralie is currently a senior at North High School in North St. Paul. She is part of the policy committee of the Minnesota Youth Council and is a member of the Youth Leadership Council. She is also president of an activist group at her school called S.T.A.N.D (Solidarity Through the Annihilation of the Normality of Discrimination). Being very passionate about social justice, she can usually be found either attending a workshop or conference, reading non-fiction literature or posting a rant about current events on one of her many social media accounts.
The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota students, teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows’ views and opinions are solely their own.