Throughout the Upper School academic program, we provide numerous opportunities for students to develop their voices. Whether it be discussing literature in English, debating concepts in science or questioning solutions in math, Upper School students are regularly encouraged to offer their perspectives.
Outside of the classroom, students share their viewpoints just as often, challenging policies and asking thought-provoking questions about procedures. While it may seem odd to hear the Upper School Head praise this type of scrutiny, to me, it is indicative of the ways in which we empower girls to respectfully offer alternative viewpoints and to affect change in their communities.
When our students ask questions and challenge us to think closely about our school practices, they help to shape changes both big and small. While these are not always major shifts within the school community, even seemingly minor requests provide low-risk opportunities for students to express themselves.
One area of the Upper School that was recently improved as a result of student feedback is our clubs programming. When we reduced the number of meeting spaces for clubs last year, students felt limited by the new constraints. This year, they requested (and have been granted) the opportunity to once again meet in classrooms, which ensures that their clubs and affinity groups are able to thrive. Additionally, our activities periods now serve as a student-driven supplement to our regular assembly programming, which is designed by adults. The activities periods provide time for students to address their peers and teachers about the issues that matter most to them. For example, our Asian Student Union and Black Student Union will soon join forces during one of these activities periods to deliver a presentation on tokenism. In addition, as the one-year anniversary of the Tree of Life tragedy approaches, students will lead a commemoration of the event. Both of these assemblies will be meaningful not only because of their content but because students will lead, design, and present them.
As students move through the Upper School, their advisors and teachers increasingly promote self-advocacy as they approach the independence of their college years. We encourage our students to utilize their voices whenever they encounter a setback, whether it be a disappointing test grade or a philosophical objection to an Upper School policy. This type of questioning prepares students for bigger and more complex requests in the future, whether during their time at Ellis or after.