As I wake each morning, I tell myself, “Thank you, God, for another day; may I encounter smiles on people’s faces.” I walk to school and I run into a lot of my fellow students. Sadly, I can tell some are hurting inside. I wonder about their stories and if they receive help at school rather than just being taught.
Lately, there have been many articles in the news media about school dropout and truancy rates. Schools have improved, but some issues remain. Programs are being implemented to solve the problems, but what about the students’ opinions? After all, we know what it’s like in school, what is and isn’t working. Rather than just hearing us out, why can’t actions include our opinions?
I have been in the shoes of these students, wondering and asking myself questions daily. In elementary school, I wondered why students were given differing resources and why some didn’t receive any at all. For example, it was a given that English learners needed assistance, but others who had the same reading comprehension level as English learners were not given the necessary help just because they were not “classified” as English language learners. I also wondered why some students would constantly get in trouble and be suspended continuously, and why there wasn’t much done to help them stay in school and improve.
Years passed as I transitioned to middle school. The issues and disagreements became physical, harmful fights. The faces of students I once knew in elementary school drifted away. I had no clue who my old classmates had become. I wondered if they were OK, if they attended school, and if they were accomplishing their goals.
Now, as a senior in high school, I have seen a great number of students drop out for various reasons. Watching this happen not only affected me, but it made my community unhealthy.
I see so much talent in these students. Some students are unable to know their talents in school because they feel there is no point in going to class if they are just going to be sent out of the classroom. Of course, it may be reasonable to send out a student for acting up, but it is also reasonable to find out why the student is acting up in the first place.
Since freshman year, I have been involved with groups like Californians For Justice, a student-led racial justice organization working for better schools and lower dropout rates. I have also become involved in Building Healthy Communities, a campaign of the California Endowment whose goal is to support the development of communities where kids and youth are healthy, safe, and ready to learn.
In Building Healthy Communities, I participate in Project SUCCESS (Students United to Create a Climate of Engagement, Support and Safety), where our focus is to ensure that schools provide a supportive environment and reach out to help students stay on target to graduate. Whether it is listening to the issues happening at home, hearing the reasons that lead students to fight, or helping students think of better ways to solve conflicts, we should see more students staying in school, not more students suspended or expelled. We need to keep students in school and see them move on to graduation instead of watching them fail.
These programs have helped me build the skills I didn’t know I had inside. Most of all, they help my voice grow and be heard.
The youth voice is worth listening to. We are the most affected by these issues, and we must build a voice with several ideas to find solutions.
We might be portrayed as just “kids,” but people always leave out the fact that we are “just kids with answers.” Why else would we give up our Friday nights, our weekends, and even our holidays to discuss how we can help improve education and keep our peers in school? Our voices must be heard, too.
Miriam Hernandez is a senior at Roosevelt High School in Fresno and a student campaign chair with Californians for Justice (CFJ), which is part of the Campaign for Quality Education.