Students' voice
Students' voice
Posted on 03/15/2019

It is common for Rogers High School administrators to invite students or parents to be a part of a panel discussion with school district leadership. The purpose of the panels is to hear directly from the students--to hear students’ voice. The individuals share the experiences and challenges they face through their own lens; ethnicity, religion, race, gender, sexuality, or physical features.

At the student panels, administrators are engaging in the courageous conversations with the students. Through student voice, administrators and leadership learn of ways to create additional opportunities to improve student success and eliminate any biases or borders.
Student quote 1

In 2017, then Rogers High School senior, Rafael Cordova-Gamez joined five of his peers on the panel. After sharing their experiences, the panel quickly learned of their similarities and obstacles other students face daily.  A strong comradery within the panel began. The empathy the students had for each other was evident as the focus from the panel soon developed around the feelings of isolation, rejection, and fear from the LGBTQ student population.

Their feelings are valid. In 2018 Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the University of Connecticut released the largest-of-its-kind survey results of a LGBTQ Youth Report. Over 12,000 youths aged 13-17 from all 50 states participated in this survey. The inclusive survey found LGBTQ youth are not only encountering traumatic levels of anxiety, stress, and rejection, but also overwhelmingly feel unsafe in their own school classrooms. It was also obvious, from the LGBTQ youth who participated in the survey, supportive families and inclusive schools are key to their success and well-being.

Student quote 2According to Suicide Prevention Lifeline, over 80% of LGBTQ youth have been assaulted or threatened. Every instance of victimization in an LGBTQ person’s life more than doubles the likelihood of self-harming.

After the panel’s passionate discussions, students, staff, and district leadership worked together to create a place where all students feel safe and supported. The result of their collaboration was the creation of Safe Zone.

“A friend told me when he was coming to terms with his sexuality, he wished he knew where there was a place for him to go, that is where the idea came from,” said Rafael.

Safe Zone is a Puyallup School District specific program designed to support students needing adult intervention from social and emotional distress related to harassment, intimidation, and bullying motivated by race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, mental or physical disability, or other distinguishing characteristics.

Staff members are specifically trained to provide a space where students can receive appropriate assistance, help stop a potential situation, and resolve a problem. Trained staff have a placard they place in their window or on their door to be identified as a Safe Zone.

Safe Zone trained teacher Lynn Goralski commented, “It is so important to build positive relationships with students. They need to know there is an adult who cares for them and will not judge them. Just like adults, sometimes a student just needs someone to listen.”

Rafael is currently studying chemistry with a specialization in biochemistry at the College of Sciences at Student quote 3Central Washington University. He plans to continue his studies and become an anesthesiologist or work in holistic/natural medicines as a researcher and advocate. When asked what he thought about the implementation of Safe Zone, a project he was a fundamental part of, he stated, “I love it! I’m glad that this continued after I graduated and proud to be a part of it. I think students seeing the sign, knowing that there is a caring adult behind the door, helps them not to feel so alone.”

There are currently 60 Safe Zone trained staff across the district with plans to increase. A student can ask for help at any of the designated locations in each of the junior highs or high schools.

 

In January of 2019, parents, staff, and community members participated in a Thoughtexchange. Results showed a number of areas of interest with a particular focus on the learning environment. Participants identified several topics of concern including; bullying, harassment, ensuring every student feels safe, and inclusivity of minorities. You can review the results of the community-wide Thoughtexchange by visiting Continuing The Conversation.

 Anne Martin