Students’ voices can sometimes be the last heard when it comes to decisions regarding their community, their schools and their future. But 19 students at Fairfield Central High School are changing that approach with a semester-long class that put them on the front lines of identifying their community’s assets and creating solutions around issues related to mental health, economic opportunity and school funding.
Fairfield Central High School is the single high school in Fairfield County. Like all communities, Fairfield County faces challenges that impact its residents both holistically and individually. These challenges differ from family to family and include inequities such as internet access, food access, medical care deserts, obesity, poverty and racism.
Part of a partnership between ALL4SC, a University of South Carolina Excellence Initiative, and Student Voice, a national nonprofit, the class encouraged students to imagine the future possibilities of their community and create a plan to work toward that future. Students shared their findings in a presentation to community members followed by small group discussions that included local and state decision-makers. Their presentations included insights from survey data collected from their peers and roundtable discussions with community members.
“I learned that, as students, we can make a change with the right connections and never to be afraid to speak up,” says 10th-grader Kennedi Bates. “I would love to see our plans come to light that we discussed in our collaborative period of the program. With economic opportunities, it’s not just about what Fairfield has to offer, it’s about being proud of our county.”
A Whole Child Approach
ALL4SC and Student Voice came together with educators at Fairfield Central as part of ALL4SC’s goal of transforming education in South Carolina to focus on the whole child rather than just classroom learning. The project supports Student Voice's goal of advocating and developing student student-driven solutions as a critical component of advancing educational equity.
“The community leaders and decision-makers were very helpful and open to our ideas. They look forward to working with us just as much as we look forward to working with them,” says Fairfield Central High student Christian Nathaniel.
“Refocusing our education system to address the needs of the ‘whole child’ – including social, emotional and behavioral needs – means looking at how we involve students and their families in their education."
Barnett Berry, founder, ALL4SC
Voices of the People
Solution proposals included creating a student-lead mental health organization with design and marketing teams to co-create programs. Students also suggested integrated personal finance classes and increased internship opportunities to improve economic outcomes. The students named the school budgeting process as a place where increased student engagement could be beneficial.
“Throughout this project, students showed immense passion and leadership to create impactful solutions. They worked hard to craft their solutions with an inclusive approach by gathering school-wide data and facilitating roundtables with school and district leadership,” says Luke Harris, who was ALL4SC’s project mentor as part of his graduate work toward a master’s degree in teaching from USC’s College of Education this spring. “Their growth is inspirational and is the evidence schools need to make experiences like this project a staple in the curriculum to cultivate citizens needed to build a better future.”
The project allowed the students to not only dig deep into community challenges that affect their lives, but it also helped the education and community leaders understand how the education system can better support the whole child’s needs.
“It’s important to remember that students need more than just classroom instruction,” says Barnett Berry, founding director of ALL4SC. “Refocusing our education system to address the needs of the ‘whole child’ – including social, emotional and behavioral needs – means looking at how we involve students and their families in their education. South Carolina schools have made a great deal of progress to support student-led, competency-based and personalized learning. For us to transform education, we need to hear more directly from students themselves.”