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Education is about students

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SmartBlog contributing editor Tom Whitby met Zak Malamed (@ZakMal) at the ISTE12 Conference. Zak was part of a very impressive group of students who were charged with leading an open think tank conversation with educators. The public discussion, sponsored by Dell computer, was broadcast via Ustream for the entire day. Each of the students conducted their discussion assignments with professional aplomb. Tom asked Zak to contribute a guest blog post to reflect a student perspective in education and his efforts to give those students a voice.

Education is about the students. It is our education. It is our future. So why don’t we have much of a voice? Inspired by #EdChat’s weekly Twitter chats, I organized the first #StuVoice Twitter chat along with my peers.

With the support of policymakers, journalists, corporations, parents, educators and, most importantly, students, we launched in mid-May with chats every Monday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. Topics have ranged from “How can students determine what education policies to support?” to “How can we translate our student voice into student action?” Each chat involves a variety of stakeholders with various viewpoints, all of whom ultimately support the student voice in education policy discussions.

Recognizing that students from Des Moines, Iowa, to New York City have various perspectives to share, we established Named after the Twitter chat, aims to unite and centralize all Web-based student-focused content. We take all blogs that are written by students about the student voice, and we re-post them. We also generate original content on relevant and timely issues in education. Furthermore, we provide video content documenting student activism. Most importantly, we provide a support network for students wishing to enhance their voice and empower others to do the same.

Our grass-roots efforts began with a successful campaign to ensure that the student voice was heard by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission. Students received priority to testify at every meeting, the opportunity to meet with commission members before and after every meeting, and the ability to submit our own preliminary and final reports to the governor if we are not satisfied with the reports submitted by the commission.

Considering that the governor appointed himself the “lobbyist for the students,” we know he will listen. We will be heard.

Student Voice now aims to take similar action  on a national scale. Thereby, we will ensure that students have a say from the bottom, where decisions are really made, all the way on up to where guidelines should be set. This strategy is rooted in the philosophy that one should “think globally and act locally.” Moving forward, we plan to maintain a nonpartisan front by focusing on advocating for students to have a seat at the table. The kiddie table is a thing of the past. Even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said,  “Students know what’s working and not working in schools before anyone else.”

While we remain nonpartisan, we encourage students to develop their own views on education policy and ensure that they are heard. We are more than a hashtag, more than 140 characters and more than a blog post. We are a movement for the students and by the students, working to give the organizers of tomorrow a voice today.

Zak Malamed (@ZakMal) is an 18-year-old advocate for the student voice in education policy. He considers himself to be both a political and social activist who is passion driven. In his efforts to enhance and empower the student voice, he has organized the #StuVoice Twitter chats and Zak was president of his high school’s student government and has held many other leadership roles as a student advocate and a student organizer.