Jr. high students speak out about their schools, city, and adults

I talked with about 20 students from three junior high schools in or near Chico, California, leading a changemaker workshop in April 2016. I asked, “If you were principal of your school what changes would you make?” They didn’t bring up academic issues or teachers except for too much homework, but rather focused on schedules—like wanting more time between classes or at lunch, rules should be clear and enforced—the dress code shouldn’t be so strict but it should be enforced, structures—need recreation areas and to fix holes in bathrooms, and peers—bullies and “big shots” have too much influence. When asked what changes they’d make if they were mayors of their cities, they mentioned helping homeless and other poor people, alleviating racism, and having more fun activities. When I helped organize a Youth SpeakOut over a decade ago, the major theme was wanted more activities and places to hangout.

What they would like adults to understand about them is that they want more freedom such as to wear what they want or hang out with friends and not to be too protective so they can learn from their mistakes. Also, they’re changing quickly as they grow up. They said they live on their phones, so adults shouldn’t take them away. A girl, age 13, said, “When you’re a teenager a lot of things are hard and stressing.” A girl, 14, requested, “Respect kids like you treat your friends,” another reminded us, “We are human,” and another “Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m incapable.” A boy said, “You should take us more seriously. We want to help make decisions.” Some confirmed a theme of this book that they’re altruistic; a girl age 12 said, “We are smart people; we will change the world.” A boy, age 15, said, “We are smarter than adults.” Another boy said, “People think we are all on our devices. We do that, but our generation is working to make our world better.”

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