Beyond the Bell: Voices at the Table

Amplifying Student Voices
Posted on 04/30/2024
In the latest episode of Beyond The Bell, host Chantelle Quesnelle explores the powerful impact of student voices in shaping educational policies and school climates. Joined by grade 12 student, Shania, they discuss the crucial role of student engagement and leadership in driving change within schools. This conversation delves into the influence of student-led initiatives on mental health and well-being, providing valuable insights for parents, educators, and students alike. Listen to this conversation today wherever you find your podcasts.

The following story is based on the latest episode and has been edited for brevity and clarity.

There was a time when I could say everything my kids knew, they learned from me.  Their breadth of knowledge from “A to Z", was largely a result of the guidance, and experiences I provided them and the stories and faith I shared. Mom knew what was best; mom knew what they needed. 


As they grew older and more independent, they became exposed to a wider range of experiences outside the confines of our household -  such as school, social interactions, and extracurricular activities. 


Looking back on being a parent, it's clear that our kids aren't just shaped by what we teach them. They're born with their own abilities and experiences, destined to find their own voice in the world they grow up in — a world that differs from the one we knew. From the experiences they have at home to the lessons they learn at school, they grow into individuals with their own thoughts, ideas and (gulp) opinions. It's a journey of discovery and empowerment, that should show us the importance of listening to what they might have to say.


In the world of education, student voices are sometimes not given the attention or recognition they deserve. Thankfully, there is an increasing recognition of students’ unique perspectives and insights that are important to shaping school climate, policies, and learning experiences. 


Shania is a grade 12 student at the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board. She is an active member of the Student Senate and its Equity and Diversity subcommittee, and of several board-level student voice initiatives focused on student mental health and well-being. Locally, at her secondary school, Shania leads a social activism club focused on informing the school community about social issues that are important to students.


In the latest Beyond the Bell conversation, our host, Chantelle Quesnelle, invites Shania to explore the concept of student voice and what it means to her: 


Shania: Student voice provides a unique perspective to topics or situations that might not consider younger voices. When it comes to education… all the decisions being made by administration, by staff, by government officials, they all end up impacting student life. And because we're living through these decisions, students should have the ability to provide… strong and realistic perspectives on student issues. 


Chantelle: What makes student voice work meaningful? I know sometimes it can feel superficial or tokenized. From the experiences that you've had, Shania, what are some of the things that make student voice work meaningful for you or for students? 


Shania: I think student voice is meaningful when people are speaking to their experiences. A lot of the times when we talk about something general, it can come across as tokenized. People tend to just go with an obvious answer — like something that you’d assume to be the answer. It becomes more meaningful when people associate their real experiences with whatever topic is being discussed. For example, when we talk about mental health and well-being, it's more genuine if I talk about my individual experience of being a person of colour… and how that has affected my growth or my mental health challenges. My experience is unique and different than someone else's might be. And when we understand diverse perspectives, then we can have a better understanding of the general topic.


Chantelle:  I remember the first year we did the Student Voice Research, one of the student researchers said, “we don't have PhDs, and we're not well-versed in research, but we have experiences and our experiences matter”, and I thought that was just so valid and really important to hear.


Shania: It's so true, especially when it comes to student voice topics like education. We're the ones living through the day-to-day at school. So we have those experiences that really do need to be heard. And students should know that they have a voice and that their voice can be heard. [They] shouldn't be afraid to use their voice because even if, in the absolute worst case scenario, it goes unrecognized, you still put yourself out there. You still got across what you needed to and a lot of the times that goes a long way, and people take you seriously if you speak to what's important to you.


From experiences at home to lessons in the classroom, every moment is an opportunity that uniquely shapes a student's view of the world. The availability of clubs for social activism, intentionally including students in school climate surveys, are just two examples of  movement in the right direction. Let's not just listen to these voices; let's make them louder. With diverse perspectives, we can make real progress. Let's make sure every student has a seat at the table and the courage to speak up for what matters.

To listen to this episode with Chantelle Quesnelle and Shania, look for Beyond the Bell wherever you get your podcasts. Don't forget to check out our online articles at www.beyondthebell.ca.