Serving Student Voices On The Table

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For On The Table 2017 Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago committed to bringing student voices to the city-wide discussion on equity by hosting 30 student tables.

Thirty tables at thirty schools across Chicago, from as far south as 119th Street in West Pullman to as far north as the O’Hare International Airport. Despite the great geographic diversity, one thing was clear: No matter where students were in the city, they are optimistic about their futures and cite their friends, schools and teachers as major positives in their lives.

For two weeks CIS of Chicago, from senior managers to new hires, hosted tables with the biggest stakeholders in public education — students. With a goal of providing students with a meaningful avenue to express their thoughts, we sat and shared a meal with third through 12th graders to learn what they think about their schools and communities, and to share actionable ideas on how to make Chicago a better place.

Students weighed in on a few big questions, including what they like about their schools, how their schools could improve, and what they wish outsiders knew about their communities. After reviewing thousands of post-it notes and a few flip chart papers, these themes emerged:
1. School is a second home.
2. Visions of success are very present.
3. Students want a better education.

The discussions revealed that CPS students are ready and willing to be part of the change they envision for their schools and their communities. “We are the future, we will be in charge,” wrote a student. “Aldermen should wake up and realize that in order for this to happen we need proper education. We need to be superior in every way so we can be ahead.”

It was also clear they need caring adults in their corner.

CIS of Chicago took their thoughts to the six additional tables hosted on May 16th to garner more support for students. With attendance from a diverse group of people, the guests were inspired by the kids’ optimism. They recognized that age has made them cynical and were refreshed by the new ideas. As the adult tables ended, guests shared these ideas on how to support students:
1. Get involved with students. Volunteer. Ask them questions.
2. Build relationships. Make sure students voices are heard so they feel valued. Use resources to alleviate problems.
3. Recognize that students are feeling stressed. Their teachers are stressed and their communities are stressed.
4. Explore how to take life skills seriously when they aren’t formalized in our schools.
5. “How do we expect students to have conversations if we as adults don’t model that behavior?”
6. Remain optimistic about our schools. We need to be more collaborative in our communities to create solutions.

During CIS of Chicago’s first On the Table event in 2016, we held a dynamic conversation on the presence of security guards versus counselors and social workers in schools.

Check out our storify for all the sights and sounds from the On the Table 2017.