Changing the Narrative: Real Student Voices from LC3
By Shellene Drakes-Tull
Instead of the voices of council members booming through the PA system at Scarborough Civic Centre, it was the voices of 35 TDSB secondary students and educators having real discussions about advocacy, change and transformation, the importance of representation, white privilege and how it affects their education at the Changing the Narrative: Real Student Voices from LC3 Youth Action Group (YAG) conference.
The conference was only part of the program which included student focus groups, Student Voice councils, classroom workshops and another YAG conference held in March. Through the lived experiences of Black and marginalized students, the group developed strategies to support student advocacy around their rights and responsibilities, to navigate the education system and to improve student well-being/selfcare.
Alana Lowe and Silvia Argentina Arauz Cisneros, the Student Equity Program Advisors (SEPAs) for TDSB’s Learning Centre 3, were integral in developing the program. SEPAs coordinate, deliver and organize workshop, resources, student forums and leadership activities for students experiencing marginalization within the Board.
Amplifying the voices of Black and marginalized students
The priority of Changing the Narrative: Real Student Voices from LC3 is to amplify the voices of Black and marginalized students and create safe spaces to have difficult conversations, while giving young people the confidence to advocate for themselves, their peers and their communities.
For Blessing, a Grade 12 student at Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute, attending the YAG conference is about increasing knowledge and sparking others to make a difference in their community. “If you start a change, it can maybe inspire others to make a change as well and make a better impact for our community,” she says.
“It’s important for our voices to be heard because we’ve been marginalized for the longest time,” explains a Grade 12 Albert Campbell student who didn’t want to be identified. “It’s important for those voices to be heard because it’s an issue of equity—the least society can do is listen. It’s sad to say that listening is not enough, if you’re not willing to actually make a change, listening is not really going to do much. It’s cool to be heard, but it’s definitely not enough.”
The program also served to create community for students who could share similar experiences and learn from each other. When Jaya, a Grade 10 Albert Campbell student, was in elementary school she didn’t feel like there were any older students who understood what she was going through as a Black student. “I want my voice to be heard for the younger generation. The younger girls to hear that there is hope and there are people who are older who are doing things and can help them,” she says.
It’s important to include all voices in the conversation because it’s the same people making the decisions: white men, says Maaha, a Grade 12 student at Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute. “So it’s actually really important to have other people with different views and who have gone through different experiences to come and share their voices.”
Recognizing the power of their voices
TDSB data shows that marginalized students still face discrimination in their schools and aren’t receiving equitable access to education. Programs like Changing the Narrative: Real Student Voices from LC3 are just one way to bridge the gaps that marginalized students face. “It's really important for students -- especially for those whose voices aren't always at the table or involved with leadership activities -- to be given opportunities to lead the change we want to see in the TDSB,” Alana explains.
The next steps for the Youth Advisory Group, LC3 is to create a student-led structure where they organize bi-monthly meetings and gatherings for students across Scarborough high schools to brainstorm issues they'd like to address and activities to raise awareness, with staff support. The goal is also to raise student voices to the LC3 Superintendent team, ensuring their concerns and opinions help to shape decisions and leadership.
“Students are beginning to recognize the power of their voice and their agency to create change and staff and peers are recognizing them as leaders within their schools,” says Alana. “There's still a long road ahead, but I think students and staff alike are beginning to appreciate the importance of centering student voice.”