What Students Can Teach Advocates about Navigating Digital Like Naturals
March 23, 2018

An 18-year-old high school senior graduating this spring was six when Twitter was invented; some students have their own hashtag—coined at birth. Today’s students have never lived in a world without social media, smartphones, or Google. And in a time when tweets instantly make headline news, students are taking note and leveraging the digital skills they’ve been perfecting for years.

While there is much to learn about advocacy and urgency from the surge of student voices in recent weeks, education advocates have been working to amplify student voice for as long as they’ve served students. In this three-part series, leaders and the students they serve share insights on the power of elevating education’s ultimate stakeholder.

“We live in a new digital age that I was born in and many of my teachers have had to learn.”

Trylyon Love, an Oakland, California student, penned this in a blog to her teachers on how to more actively engage students in their own learning.

Advocates like the leaders at GO Public Schools are helping Oakland students channel their challenges toward positive change. Charles Cole, a GO Public Entrepreneur-in-Residence, founded Energy Convertors, an online magazine dedicated to helping underserved students strengthen and share their voice. Energy Convertors, launched in 2017, features 18 student authors and an endless feed of their writing. The fellowship provides students a stipend and an opportunity to write on topics they’re passionate about.

In Minnesota, EdAllies launched a blogging program last year called EdVoices that features insights from five guest authors—two of whom are students. Students cover everything from bullying to discipline.

Strategic Communications Director Ariana Kiener shared insight for other advocates looking to amplify students: “If you see elevating student voices as a way to simply deepen the bench of people sharing your message exactly, it’s not going to go well. Instead, commit to raising up student perspectives for the very sake of raising up student perspectives.”

“Students’ takes are so raw, and so powerful, they can uniquely cut through all the noise and re-center conversations on what really matters: them.”

The Prichard Committee Student Voice Team—the organizers behind the March 20 teach-in and rally at the Kentucky state capitol—leverage digital tools to connect, plan, and strategize. Regular video chats (via software like Zoom) help students, leaders, and guest speakers overcome geographic boundaries.

Rachel Belin, Prichard’s Student Voice Team director, explains: “By holding a series of strategic sessions, first with youth and then with an intergenerational audience, we were able to connect people across the state and the country, capitalizing on the brainpower of youth and adult experts to think through some challenging ideas.”

The team also relies on Google Docs to collaborate on writing materials and social media to mobilize young leaders across the state.

Belin explained how they used multiple social platforms to bring the audience into the planning and design process.

“We relied on different mediums for different audiences—a Facebook group for adults; Twitter for organizations, news media, politically-oriented older students, educators, and other professionals; and Instagram and Snapchat for middle and high school students…”

“We described when we were wrestling with ideas, shared images of behind-the-scenes work like preparing for a television interview, invited them to join us for virtual strategy sessions and sign-making and asked for guidance when we were unsure of things, like whether we were getting our messaging right or even where to find a podium.”

Because many teens are too young to drive, digital channels helped them stay involved, and as Belin notes, mainstream media followed along, reporting on their preparations.

Tennessee students put their digital savvy to work when Campaign for School Equity recently turned over the keys to their Twitter account during the organization’s first advocacy day on the hill. Students generated Twitter coverage, capturing the energy and student interviews.  

Melody Harris, an 11th grader in Memphis, shared this about why elected officials should be tuning in to students: We already know that you don’t expect a lot from us…That’s okay though because that just gives us the chance to prove you wrong, but we can’t do it alone. We need that helping hand to get a foot out the door.”

Interested in how students leverage in-person events and research to make their case? Check out the other two posts in this series on education’s ultimate stakeholder.

If you are interested in connecting with any of the leaders mentioned, reach out.


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Ashley Schmidt

Ashley is PIE Network's Senior Director of Member Engagement & Communications

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