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Blog: Wednesday, January 11th, 2023

Abbotsford Senior Secondary Student Voice

Student voice is an initiative started at Abbotsford Senior Secondary in 2021. Student Voice hosts students from all different backgrounds that encompass the school’s demographics. These students meet every Thursday to delve into school and community-based topics that they identify. Previous topics have included rewriting the school dress code, organizing a better way for grade 9 orientation, and Indigenizing school announcements.  

The Student Voice members participate in active listening and lively discussion. Perspectives and experiences are respected. Generally, sessions on new topics start with students sharing their experiences and gaining an understanding of others in the room. From there, they brainstorm together to generate reasonable solutions to the topics that are raised. These solutions are discussed and honed to ensure that a reasonable, ethical, and appropriate plan can be distributed from students to leading teachers to admin, and the school beyond. An example of this is when Student Voice focused on how to Indigenize daily practices within the school. They identified that singing “O Canada” every Monday on announcements but not implementing any Indigenous elements did not seem fair or reconciliatory. Thus, they produced the idea of singing “O Canada” on Mondays but having Indigenous drumming during the Friday announcements. This way, students felt they were respecting the land –and its history – in something as simple yet prevalent as announcements. 

This year, the students are working alongside Shane Safir, and her Street Data work to generate even more student-based perspectives to share and then improve the school environment and culture. Since partnering with Shane Safir and her work, Student Voice has been focusing on both Street-Data based work and our in-school community-based concerns, hybridizing the two approaches.  

A topic raised during the empathy interviews (based on Street Data) and within our Student Voice community was the feeling of school safety, particularly around the issue of washroom use and gender-neutral washrooms. Thus, we have been delving into this topic in our last few meetings. Some things they identified as issues were misuse, a general misunderstanding of the purpose, judgment, lack of accessibility based on placement within the school, etc. Some solutions they came up with were transforming a staff bathroom (with a lock) into a gender-neutral washroom (so there are no stalls or ability to have more than one person in at once), an assembly educating students about the purpose/use of a gender-neutral bathroom; announcements about that topic to raise awareness and understanding; a broadcast for that purpose (part of Panther News), etc. 

This ongoing topic will require some action from staff/admin regarding real changes. The students are ready and willing to share, brainstorm, and partake in solutions to this. We will need backup from staff regarding transforming a staff washroom into a friendly gender neural one (well-located) with a key. Though there are challenges presented with some of the solutions that students generate, school leadership and administration are willing to progress and raise student voices. Progress is sometimes contested, but the strength and reason of Student Voice have proven effective and thus motivate students to persevere.  

Though this is the topic we've been working on lately based on our empathy interviews and in-house student concerns, the student voice participants had drafted up a list of issues/empathy interview findings at the beginning of the year that we will continue to work through. These topics include: 

  • Truth and reconciliation 
  • Queer censorship 
  • Trauma-based information 
  • Accommodating student needs in class, during tests, etc. 
  • Careers class - concerns and areas for improvement 
  • Homework and mental health 
  • Racial discrimination 
  • Antisemitism 
  • Teaching styles/feeling welcome/emphasis on grades 
  • International students - respect and needs 
  • Censorship in classrooms  

It is unsurprising to find that there is a massive crossover between the empathy interview questions and the previously determined Student Voice topics. In addition to Student Voice working on these, we're developing a specific inquiry question based on one of these topics that will be submitted to Shane Safir as a part of our Street Data work. This inquiry question will be one that we strive to answer and solve during this school year as we work with Safir.  

The raising of student voices in our school community has been extremely powerful.  Bell Hooks said, “Empowerment cannot happen if we refuse to be vulnerable while encouraging students to take risks” (Teaching to Transgress, 1994). As we strive for equity, their voices have been the greatest tool – and how better to improve a school environment than to gain insight from those who learn in it? Building a safe community that prioritizes welcoming and active listening – and that partners with teachers and administrators whenever possible - has led students to share, and thus empower, themselves and their school community. 

ALEXANDRA KLASSEN, VICE-PRINCIPAL
Abbotsford Senior Secondary