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Where Student Voice Begins

Though many people equate voice with confidence, it really stems from self-awareness and social awareness. In the younger grades, “we talk about how to embrace who we are,” says Bill McCarthy, Preschool and Lower School Division Head. “We talk about what makes us unique and special — as well as what connects us.” In his division’s responsive-classroom model, the day begins and ends with the students coming together in a circle. “They understand that they all have a part in those conversations, and that everyone has a different way 
of participating.”

“And ‘voice’ isn’t necessarily verbal,” Bill continues. “It can be expressed artistically, in dance, in the games and activities they select during choice time. This connects to our Reggio Emilia philosophy, which sees children as capable and having infinite abilities — the so-called ‘100 languages of children.’”

“In the Middle School, we help students use their voices to independently navigate things — in multiple contexts — without the need of adult intervention,” says Yves Kabore, Head of Middle School. “Ultimately, our work is to help them get to the point, as seniors, where they have a sense of self, they can advocate for themselves, and they know how to live in community with others.”

Ultimately, developing student voice is not about “trying to prepare kids for ‘real life’ in the future,” says Yves. “What they’re saying now matters, and what they want now matters, and what they think now matters. They’re living their real life now.”

Corresponding with POTUS

With encouragement from their science teacher Sharon Melady, the First Grade recently sent emails to President Biden to share their concerns about the environment. They were very excited when he replied! “I urge you to remain curious, creative, and fearless,” he wrote. “Students like you are the future of our great nation, and it’s important that you speak up on the issues that matter most. When you make your voice heard, adults listen.”

Notes from the Classroom


We started the year looking at hip hop culture: how it creates community using different kinds of expression. One day a couple of the kids made a poster of a break dancer. Then they came in wearing suits with hoodies, saying, ‘We want to be a break crew!’ So I helped them create a dance floor. They were so into breakdancing that I connected with Alicia White, the dance teacher. She brought in capoeira and different African dances. She built on their energy and their momentum. Now they call themselves the Bunny Breaking Crew! I started it by introducing hip hop culture, but they took it in another direction, and I just followed.

— Eric Royo
Second Grade Head Teacher

In the Third Grade, students find their voice literally, by learning how to phrase their ideas and differentiate their ideas from other people’s. And in a broader sense, they find their voices by figuring out their opinions about civics topics or social justice issues. We often say, Here are the facts. Some people believe this, some people believe that, and it’s your job to figure out what you think. So we help them figure out their thoughts, then how to voice those thoughts, whether in writing, in art, or in a petition — whatever it might be. It’s really empowering for students to realize they can have an opinion. It’s simple, but powerful. 

— Elisha Li
Third Grade Head Teacher

The emergence of the Chapel Committee over the last several years is a strong example of student voice in the Middle School. The students organize the announcements and design the games and competitions themselves. They always put together a really great program, and in a sense that’s an example of voice, because they’re very careful about who’s being represented and who’s being heard. Interestingly, we have a really strong group of Fifth Graders this year, and they were upset that their grade wasn’t winning any of the Chapel games. So the Chapel Committee had this lovely dialogue with the Fifth Graders, explaining some of the traditions. They asked for the younger kids’ feedback, saying, Please share ideas for games that you can win!

— Kate Meyer
Middle School History Teacher
Faculty Advisor to the Chapel Committee

In terms of student voice in the past several years, the students on the Change Committee had a huge impact. Their presentation to the English Department prompted us to analyze our practice — not just to find opportunities to diversify the content we’re teaching, but even in examining the process of how we’re teaching to reach diverse learners of every variety.

— Elena Megalos
Middle School Humanities Teacher


Read more from our feature

A New Generation of Student Voices

Meet the People Behind the Words: Portraits by Lucia ’23 and Madison ’23

Student Research: Ella ’23 on Cosmology

Student Activism: The Land Acknowledgement Committee

Student Voices: Opinions from The Prism

Becoming Braver: Alumni Voices