Students lead call for change; Identify school-based obstacles to success
Surveys of students and administrators reveal striking inequities across district
Students called on the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education to adopt a Student Bill of Rights as a way to address systemic inequities found in this year’s School Works community action research project.
The results of surveys done through A+ Schools’ School Works program completed by over 400 high school juniors and 26 principals, counselors, and teacher leaders in Pittsburgh’s nine public secondary schools demonstrated that poorer minority students face multiple school-based obstacles to college and career readiness. The key finding from the report provided was that school climate, positive discipline practices, and staff instability are concerns common at high poverty schools.
“While we know our students come to our schools with a variety of challenges, what we’re seeing is that students who come to our schools with less find themselves in schools that make it harder to get ready for college or career,” said Carey Harris, Executive Director of A+ Schools.
This research confirmed for TeenBloc student leader, Amma Ababio, a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice, what she and her colleagues knew when they created the Student Bill of Rights as a way to share their vision for improving education in Pittsburgh. “This vision came out of months of conversations about our personal experiences in Pittsburgh’s public high schools,” said Ababio. “One student talked about how he felt like a prisoner by the way the security guards treated him. Another talked about how she didn’t think it was fair that her school did not have the same resources that other schools had.”
Wanting change, students drafted the Student Bill of Rights to set the bar for how students should be treated and what they should be provided if they are going to graduate ready for college or career. “We realized that if we want these conditions to change, then we, as students, had to do something,” said Ababio.
In October, TeenBloc students kicked off their campaign for a Student Bill of Rights. Read the about the campaign below or download a copy (PDF) of the Student Bill of Rights and cast your student ballot either in person at your school or online by clicking here.
Catch all the tweets from the rally and the campaign on Twitter by checking out #WDTBS and #TeenBloc.
We the students of Pittsburgh Public Schools, in order to form a more perfect district, do ordain and establish this Student Bill of Rights. The more perfect district will establish justice, ensure coexistence in the school community, promote general understanding, and secure all of the following rights entitled to all Pittsburgh Public School students:
1. Right to Free Expression
We want to be able to exercise our First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to the maximum extent possible. We understand that any content shall not contain anything obscene, libelous, or slanderous as defined by the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Student Code of Conduct. We want to be able to express ourselves in an official school newspaper, to circulate petitions, to conduct polls, to set-up information tables, to organize clubs, to sponsor speakers and activities, and to post notices on school bulletin boards.
2. Right to participate in decisions that affect our education
We want opportunities to regularly discuss issues that impact our education with school board members, district administration, and school administration. Schools shall inform students of these opportunities through a variety of means. In addition, we want the right to appeal any disciplinary action if it violates the right to a public education or other rights that are guaranteed under state or federal laws.
3. Right to equitable academic resources
We want the right to equitable access to academic resources. Schools are to provide every student with the appropriate tools and the necessary supports needed to graduate, go to college or pursue a career. The district shall ensure that there is an equitable distribution of effective teachers throughout Pittsburgh Public Schools.
4. Right to a socially, emotionally, and physically safe and positive school climate
We want to be in a positive learning environment that does not resemble a prison and where the fundamental dignity of all is protected. All disciplinarians (including contracted service providers like bus drivers or security staff) are to be trained in youth development, positive behavior interventions, de-escalation techniques, and restorative justice practices.
5. Right to inclusive teaching and learning environments in our classrooms
We want positive classrooms that feel safe, respectful and welcoming where everyone can learn. We want our teachers not only to care about our progress in the classroom but also to care about us as human beings. We want to be engaged in challenging and relevant learning and to the extent in which it can, we want it to be fun. Pittsburgh student bill of rights
6. Right to be treated with respect and dignity by the school community
We want to go to schools free from bullying by students and adults. No student shall be discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, national origin, religion, disability, or economic status. We want an independent administrator to evaluate student treatment, to provide appropriate training and counseling to students and school staff, and to help school leaders create cultures of respect for all students.
7. Right to effective teachers
We want to be educated by teachers who are knowledgeable about their discipline, who use various teaching strategies that contribute to a greater understanding of the subject matter, who are responsive to student input, and who are caring, supportive and culturally competent.
8. Right to positive school disciplinary policies and practices
We want to be disciplined on an individual basis. Group punishment for individual misdeeds shall not be permitted. Schools shall adopt positive forms of discipline to teach students appropriate social and behavioral skills. If any disciplinary action is taken, it is to be evidence-based, aimed at addressing the cause of the behavior, resolving the situation, restoring all relationships that were involved, refraining from criminalizing students, and bringing the students back into the school community in a positive manner. We want to be able to participate in school disciplinary committee meetings to provide input on how disciplinary policies are working in practice.
9. Right to equitable access to accelerated classes and academic counseling
We want to be able to participate in accelerated academic classes and have access to our school’s college counselor when we reach 9th grade. A full range of Advanced Placement classes shall be accessible to all students regardless of the school in which they attend. We want to receive early college and career focused interventions including but not limited to vocational apprenticeships, guidance on course selection, college selection, and entrance exam test preparation.
10. Right to efficient transportation
We want efficient and safe transportation to school and school events. Students with disabilities and students who are identified as homeless, in foster care, or listed as living outside of the home are not to be denied transportation.