Giving Voice to the Voiceless: Why We Must Include Students in Advocacy and Decision-Making During the Pandemic

Every Friday evening, I tune into an online talk show called the Parent Teacher Student Check-In; the self-described show was created during the 2020 lockdown and was designed to offer people an outlet to vent about their experiences during the pandemic.  This week was the most riveting.   I cringed as an undergraduate college student named Anaya Roseley, shared her experience of starting her freshmen year during the 2020 pandemic.  As a mother of an undergraduate college student myself, I was nearly in tears as she began her story talking about coming from not only a single-parent home, but also, her mom had not attended college.   Already starting from a deficit, and lacking much needed social capital, she told of how she was on her own with no advisor, no counselor, no mentor, and basically no one to ask questions.  Because of the pandemic, no one ever told her that there was a college bookstore or a campus library.  It wasn’t until the end of the semester that she stumbled across them.  As Anaya told her story, I could hear the pain in her voice.  What she had learned, she learned on the fly.  What she had learned, was how to advocate for herself. 

Because of sheer determination and grit, Anaya did not quit.  Statistics show that the overall dropout rate in the U.S. for undergraduate students is 40 percent; however that number jumps even higher to 89 percent for low-income, first-generation students, which is four times higher than second-generation students.  The most recent data shows that during the pandemic, 25 percent of students postponed college, some indefinitely.

It occurred to me that self-advocacy is a necessary skill that needs to be explicitly taught to students prior to graduating from high school.  Not all students are born with those natural advocacy skills like Anaya who intuitively discovered which services were lacking, who to contact to address the lack of services, how to articulate those needs, and how to take action when those needs were not met.

Now that we are over a year into pandemic times, here are a few things students, teachers, and parents can advocate for:

First, there must be a reallocation of funding for education, social assistance, health and wellness.  Funds must be made available in a non-competitive manner where the most vulnerable are not marginalized due to a lack of capacity to submit required documents.  After leaving high school, there was no one to help Anaya fill out a FASFA form to apply for additional financial aid. Because of the pandemic, there was no one to tell her about the Busar’s office. Not only was Anaya concerned with learning a new school culture and getting good grades, she was also working a part-time job, like many young people of color often have to work their way through college.

Second, we must demand the local governments and school districts provide plans and strategies related to marginalized families.  Those funds should be allocated for nurses, social workers, advisors, science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) tutors, integrated services for students with disabilities, online and blended learning materials with training that includes parent and teacher training to ensure access to the most vulnerable, and help close the existing education and digital divide. Community advocate Monique Chandler-Waterman said the harsh reality is that it is easier for young people to get a gun than proper assistance in college.

Third, we must also advocate for improved preventative health care services through vaccination programs, neo-natal health, nutrition, health promotion, disease prevention, and health education.

Fourth, we must demand that schools and local government provide quality disaggregated data and information about the wellbeing of our children in order to develop better plans based on evidence so that we can monitor situations in real-time.

Children need to be empowered to advocate for their own rights in digital spaces through media literacy. When we put children at the center of planning, we can establish concrete mechanisms for child participation in decision-making. 

The Parent Teacher Student Check-In airs LIVE every Friday at 4:00 p.m. EST on the East Flatbush Village Facebook page.  Dr. Shango A. Blake founded the show and serves as the co-host along with educator, George O. Patterson, community advocate Monique Chandler-Waterman, and clinical social worker, Chaka Phaire.

To watch the full episode of the Parent Teacher Student Check-In, click the link below.

2 thoughts on “Giving Voice to the Voiceless: Why We Must Include Students in Advocacy and Decision-Making During the Pandemic”

  1. I certainly believe that we have to center students and young people “…at the center of planning, we can establish concrete mechanisms for child participation in decision-making.” We have to teach our young how to lead by providing them with a platform, where we also benefit from their voice and participation.

    1. Absolutely. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this and for all that you do with the Parent Teacher Student Check-in. We see why it is so important to have a certified social worker on set!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *