THE FWSU STORY: What’s a YATST? Empowering Student Voice and Agency

Recently a group of BFA High School Freshmen and Sophomores convened in Montpelier as part of a movement to bring student voice to the forefront of high school transformation. The two-day workshop was organized and sponsored by UP for Learning.

Members of the YATST team at BFA Fairfax.

Members of the YATST team at BFA Fairfax.

Here is how UP for Learning defines itself as both an organization and a movement:

“UP for Learning helps educational institutions across the country fully engage students in their own learning through a research-based model that focuses on deepening youth-adult partnerships in schools. On the cutting edge of the national movement toward student-centered education, UP for Learning provides expert coaching, facilitation, and training to youth-adult teams. It offers strategies and tools for building a school community in which learning is engaging for everyone and youth are fully empowered. Based in Vermont, UP for Learning also conducts policy advocacy to elevate student voice in learning and decision-making on a state level. UP for Learning helps schools fully embrace student voice and youth-adult partnership as central to their school culture. Fostering student voice—empowering youth to express their opinions and influence their educational experiences so that they feel they have a stake in the outcomes—is one of the most powerful tools schools have to increase learning.” — Toshalis and Nakkula, “Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice” Executive Summary, 2012

YATST team in action.

YATST team in action.

Act 77 has given Vermont high schools policy-based “permission” to transform learning for students; it is critical the students have a voice in what changes are occurring on their behalf and how those changes are communicated, implemented, and experienced. “Student voice” can be also be described as the expression of perspectives, beliefs, and attitudes about the experience of learning, including the structures and processes, from the students’ viewpoint and in their own words. Adults have largely created those “processes and structures.”  So, what would happen if students and their voices were in partnership with those adults in co-designing the shifts in learning as high schools are remodeled under Act 77? That is where YATST comes in. “Student voice” can be also be described as the expression of perspectives, beliefs, and attitudes about the experience of learning, including the structures and processes, from the students’ viewpoint and in their own words. Adults have largely created those “processes and structures.”  So, what would happen if students and their voices were in partnership with those adults in co-designing the shifts in learning as high schools are remodeled under Act 77? That is where YATST comes in. So, what would happen if students and their voices were in partnership with those adults in co-designing the shifts in learning as high schools are remodeled under Act 77? That is where YATST comes in.

YATST team engaging in training.

YATST team engaging in training.

YATST, which stands for Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together, is a network of youth and adult teams across Vermont high schools dedicated to ensuring that both students and adults are highly engaged in school change that is responsive to our rapidly changing world.

YATST student leaders pose for the camera!

YATST student leaders pose for the camera!

Most of BFA’s school-based YATST team members are already UP for Learning veteran leaders having participated in teaching and leading their Freshmen peers last year in understanding the role of motivation, mindset, and metacognition in proficiency-based learning. Ten team members joined together for this Montpelier training to strategize a plan to engage high school students who will be required to graduate with proficiency beginning in 2020 in amplifying their voice in their own learning. As sophomores, Kiana Labor, Natalie Bates, and Theresa Trenholm are continuing their leadership this year along with new Freshmen leaders Sammy Bidwell, Jarrett Sweet and adult leaders Danielle Kicsak, Mark Ladue, Harold Vance III, David Buckingham, Linda Keating, and John Tague. One way they will do this is by expanding the leadership team to include more Freshmen and Sophomores and to co-create an action plan that addresses helping their peers and faculty understand the concept of “agency.” YATST defines agency as “personal power with purpose,” and the team will add goals and tools that promote engagement and buy-in and address the 4-Rs that build agency: Rigor, Relationship, Relevance, and Shared Responsibility.

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YATST team collaboration.

These students are clearly committed to establishing a culture of student voice at BFA Fairfax. Ninth grader Sammy Bidwell sums it up, “To put more student voice into our school system will improve the learning environment. Everyone learns differently, but not everyone feels they can speak out or do something about it.”

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Linda Keating

 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

 

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