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Students Voice a National Call to Action

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By Eric Guerci

Over the past year and a half, I have joined students from traditional public, charter, and private high schools as well as community colleges and universities to reflect on the successes and challenges of our educational journeys. By drawing on our own diverse experiences and listening to our peers across the country, we have outlined a compelling and overdue vision for schools that calls for adults to treat us as whole learners.

The tenets of our Call to Action as outlined below are aspirational, but we know they are achievable--during the best moments in our educational careers, we've reaped the benefits of the very approaches for which we are asking.

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We need to learn and be evaluated as whole students. Creating schools that work for students requires the integration of social, emotional, and academic learning. We need to learn how to read and compute, as well as how to develop a sense of empathy and perseverance. We need to learn how to compassionately work together and how to develop a personal platform of values upon which we engage with our communities.

We need our families and communities to be embraced as partners in our learning.  None of our learning happens in a vacuum. Each of us walks into the classroom with a unique identity, background, and culture. Social and emotional learning helps to bridge the gap between the two worlds--life at home and life at school--most fundamental to our developmental identities, and our holistic development requires families and communities to be invested in and part of our teaching and learning.

We need our schools to be safe, with a strong sense of community. What do schools and classrooms look and feel like when we thrive as whole learners? As a foundation, our schools must be safe: physically safe, emotionally safe, as well as providing the safety to dream big. While safety is necessary, it is not sufficient.  Under safe conditions, adults must support our growth by actively listening to our voices, using appropriate and diverse curricular materials, and including students in the forefront of decision-making processes in classrooms and schools. 

We need our teachers to know and understand us.  As my friends and I return home from college and work this summer, there are certain adults with whom we are eager to visit and reconnect. Because these adults cared for us during middle or high school, we know that they remain invested in our success--still eager to hear about our successes, setbacks, and well-being. Each student deserves to have an established relationship with an adult in the school building whom we can trust and go to for academic, social, and emotional support. In far too many of our schools, our peers' relationships with adults are formed by accident. In our Call to Action, we emphasize that these bonds of trust must be intentionally cultivated, leaving no one unsupported. One way to ensure that we are supported is through high-quality advisory periods that occur on a regular basis.

Our road map is rooted in an unwavering optimism about the potential in our schools. We have reflected on the best experiences of our own K-12 educations--those are the experiences our younger brothers and sisters deserve. We were not surprised to find that the principles in our Call to Action align closely with the consensus statements from the Commission's Council of Distinguished Educators and Council of Distinguished Scientists. There is expert affirmation and youth energy around the conviction that building our social and emotional skills works to ensure our academic success.

This is where you come in. I invite young people across the country to join me and my peers and sign on to our Call to Action. Share it with your friends and your teachers. And it's not just young people - teachers can help by sharing the Call to Action with their students. Imagine what we could accomplish if we speak with one united voice on what we want and deserve in our schools.

When we create school environments that combine social, emotional, and academic development, we can truly thrive. We can't wait any longer.

Photo: Eric Guerci speaks about the Youth Call to Action on a panel at the Aspen Institute. (© The Aspen Institute: Photo by Laurence Genon)

Eric Guerci is a freshman at Princeton University and a member of the National Commission's Youth Commission.

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