FROM READERS: Classmates start Students' Say group to advocate for teen voices

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 | 4:37 p.m. CST; updated 5:08 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jilly Dos Santos, Emily Franke and Maddy Mueller are sophomores at Rock Bridge High School. The three students founded the group Students' Say with other classmates in response to Columbia Public Schools' proposal to change start times.

Students’ Say mission statement: “Students’ Say is an organization that allows Columbia Public Schools’ high school students to have a say in district-wide decisions. We advocate for all CPS students, families and faculty, with a focus on our high schools. Our organization strives to create and strengthen bonds between CPS high schools and engage students in a democratic process that will directly affect them.” 

Today you can find an organization to represent anyone’s voice. The most obvious are the Republican and Democratic parties, but there are also lesser known community clubs, such as the Dermatologist Interest Group at Mizzou. Everyone from Democrats to dermatologists have representation — but who is missing?

Students. In our society, students, especially those in high school, are expected to be young adults, fully capable of handling life like an adult and completely responsible for our actions. Yet we are often treated like incapable children at the same time. We are told we can do anything, so long as we have proper adult supervision. And therein lies the problem.

By sending students mixed signals, administrators fail to provide a clear message of how we as teenagers should act and participate in society. How can they tell us that they trust us and accept us as responsible young adults if they don’t give us privileges like open lunch or AUT, a study hall available to juniors and seniors where they can leave school with parent permission?

When our freedoms are in limbo, we are unable to get the practice we need acting and thinking like adults. For years students have had a very limited, if not nonexistent, say in the way the district operates. But with the many decisions to be made accompanying the opening of Battle High School, students across the district are finally taking a stand and offering their input.

A student advocacy group isn’t a new idea. There are existing school clubs that advocate for high schoolers to voice their opinions and make changes, but they are school-specific. For instance, if Student Coalition, a Rock Bridge club, decided to take on a district policy, there would likely be little input from Hickman students on the matter. The lack of a connection between student bodies and advocacy groups in the district means unequal representation from different schools. In addition, the existing student advocacy groups are run not entirely by the students but with supervision from faculty. Students’ Say is different.

We were founded after we heard from our teachers that the way it currently stood, high school was likely to start at 7:20 a.m. next year. This caused some major dissent in the student body, and soon the question wasn’t would someone do something, but when and who it would be. Sophomore Jilly Dos Santos decided the who would be her and the when would be now. She created a Twitter account and Facebook group to spread the word of early start times — and assert the fact that students could have a say. With a newly recruited team of RBHS sophomores Emily Franke, Kristen Tarr, Brett Stover and Maddy Mueller, our organization exploded.