By:Kathryn Robinson, National Director of Practitioner Development

We know that, when given a platform for their voices to be heard, students can amaze us with their efforts and achieve extraordinary results. In fact, the very notion serves as one of our organizational values.

While there are many ways students can share their voices, one particularly powerful way is through writing. As French philosopher and writer Voltaire puts it, “Writing is the painting of the voice.”  Through writing, young people are empowered to give voice to their ideas, opinions, concerns, and challenges. They develop not only as learners working to master an academic skill, but also as leaders working to master a key tool for civic engagement.  Writing helps paint the picture of what matters and is relevant to them. They can use their writings to raise awareness about their lives, schools, and communities, bringing attention to these stories in ways that can inspire positive change.

We see this beautifully done in the published memoirs of adolescents and young adults such as Malala Yousafzai, Ishmael Beah, and Ashley Rhodes-Courter. In I Am Malala, Malala recounts how she was shot by the Taliban because of her outspokenness regarding the right for girls to get an education. Ishmael writes about his haunting journey through wartime violence in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. In Three Little Words, Ashley shares her story of survival within the foster care system. For students, these memoirs can highlight the effect their voices can have to spark change above and beyond what they may have imagined.

While memoirs are a great way for students to share their voices, there are other, simple ways City Year AmeriCorps members can include the support of student voice into their service. Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Engage students as public speakers in one of your team’s upcoming events. This provides an excellent opportunity to showcase student voice and gives students a chance to lead. Speeches should be written and edited by the student, with the support of their City Year Americorps member.

  • Offer a student the leadership opportunity to write a summary of one of your team’s service learning experiences. The practice of reflecting on and summarizing the activities are not only integral for the service learning to be successful, but they are also a great way to integrate writing.

We all want to feel as though our voice matters. That, when shared, our ideas and opinions are listened to and responded to appropriately.  We should never forget that when working with students. They are the most important stakeholders in the work we do. Ultimately, finding ways to activate, to raise, and to include their voices is essential if we hope to get students fully invested and engaged. I encourage you to make sure student voice is harnessed and employed where ever you serve. It is through the power of their voices that you will help them build a strong foundation from which they can reach their greatest potential in their schools, communities, and beyond.  


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