New England Secondary School Consortium


Harwood Union High School Takes Student Voice to Heart

From Education Week

Published June 2, 2016

By Catherine Gewertz

On a winding road in rural New England, students are pushing the boundaries of their power to shape the way they learn and how their school runs.

Unlike most American high schools, student leadership at Harwood Union High School isn’t limited to campaigns for cleaner bathrooms or better cafeteria food. Here, teenagers are deeply involved in shaping the pillars of school life, from the daily class schedule to the styles of teaching and learning that work best for them.

Aided by community groups that have trained them in leadership techniques, young people and adults at Harwood have forged an unusually strong and equal partnership over the past eight years. They developed decision-making processes that put students at the heart of the biggest school decisions. When new teachers are hired, report cards are redesigned, or honors classes are revamped, students are at the table, debating, sharing research, listening, and voting. That work has made this unassuming school in Vermont’s Green Mountains a national model for educators who believe students deserve the right to play a central role in creating their school experience.

“It’s definitely empowering,” said Cole Lavoie, a senior who’s on the school leadership team, working with teachers and administrators to figure out how honors classes should be restructured in the proficiency-based system that Vermont is phasing into its schools.

“Harwood is ahead of the curve because of the number of different ways they’ve institutionalized student voice,” said Catharine Biddle, an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Maine, who studied the school’s relationship with Up for Learning, a community group that provides leadership training for its students and staff members. “Involving students as deeply as they have, in as many ways as they have, helps avoid a common mistake of seeing student voice as monolithic: that as long as we get a couple of kids giving us feedback, that’s student involvement.”

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