Inspiring Positive Change At Student Voice Matters Day

Friday January 12, 2024

The voices of students matter. But, what does it mean to truly take students’ opinions and experiences into account, and how do leaders use those voices to make lasting change? That is what students and educational leaders set out to answer during the inaugural Student Voice Matters Day held today at California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB).

The conference was organized by the Homeless Education Services Program at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office (KCSOS) as part of a larger Student Voice initiative, which aims to help educators intentionally, purposefully, and systematically elicit student viewpoints on a specific topic for improvement purposes.

Students participate in activities during Student Voice Matters Day conference

Allyson Baptiste is a prevention specialist with Homeless and Foster Youth Services at KCSOS and is heading up the program. She says it’s so much more than listening to students. 

“It’s much more formal. It’s to engage youth in a way to get feedback from them, to make systemic change,” she said.

Students who are facing adversity and who show leadership qualities were invited to participate in the first-ever conference. There were keynote speakers, youth-adult partnership activities, a breakfast, giveaways, a tour of the CSUB campus and more.

Baptiste says the campus tour is especially important. 

“We want to show our students, especially the ones that went through adversity, higher education is possible for you and attainable to you,” she said. “We want our students to also see themselves on campus.”

Allyson Baptist (left) speaks to students. Adult supporters and students participate in activities (right)

Dee Hankins, a Motivational Speaker for the event, says it’s important to teach kids the power of resilience because life throws you curveballs. 

“We need to be able to develop a resilient mindset in order to deal with all of the negative things that are going to happen in life. And what better way than to start young and build that resilience up,” he said.

Hankins shared his story of life in foster care and overcoming adversity. He says a lot of people don’t feel like they are significant enough to make a difference, but it’s crucial to speak up. 

“Your voice is the most powerful thing that you have,” he said.  

Motivational speaker Dee Hankins shares his struggles with adversity and the power of resilience

This project is funded by the Homeless Innovative Programs (HIP) grant from the California Department of Education. The purpose of the grant is to invest in innovative practices to help improve educational stability and support academic achievement for students facing disadvantages.

Groups from 13 middle and high schools were chosen for the conference. Each student is someone facing challenges, who might not otherwise be heard at their school.

Leaders at the conference introduced the Student Voice Ambassador Program, which aims to establish youth ambassadors at schools to collaborate with other students and work with adults to bring their ideas, concerns, and voices to school leaders and create meaningful change.

Baptiste says if more students sign up to become ambassadors, KCSOS can track not only the progress of the positive change they make at school, but also track the student’s individual progress and whether this program benefits them.  

Baptiste says if students feel safe, happy and engaged at school, it will go a long way to improving issues such as chronic absenteeism and dropout rates. 

“If a student feels like they’re heard in school, they’re seven times more likely to be academically motivated than if they’re not,” she said.

Cup stack challenge with students and adult caregivers

Another program covered by the HIP grant is the Student Voice Amplified Podcast. Kim Silva, podcast producer and research associate for Homeless and Foster Youth Services says the podcast is another way for students to be heard.

“Outside of school, they don’t have a lot of control in their life but when they can talk about what they need in their education, it gives them a sense of control,” Silva said.

Silva says the podcast was created for educators to help them better serve their students, but also remove the stigma of issues surrounding homelessness, foster care, mental health and more.

In the end, Silva says the goal is to make sure all students feel like they’re supported, they belong, and they’re not alone. 

“When one student benefits, all students benefit,” she said.  

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.