December 18, 2018
Survey: Students Accept Reality of New School-Safety Measures
By Sadie Bograd, Lily Gardner, Sanaa Kahloon, Emanuelle Sippy, Krasimir Staykov, & Rachel Belin
The Dec. 13 story, “Some Fayette students speak out against metal detectors,” featured student feedback that the Student Voice Team gathered about Paul Laurence Dunbar High School’s new security measures. But it was not the story we were trying to tell.
Our goal was to convey to Kentucky’s School Safety Working Group what students are saying about the high school’s recent security measures as one part of a larger presentation on school climate. It was not to undermine the school’s earnest attempts to protect students under Fayette County Public School’s new school safety plan, especially since we have been public proponents of it.
The survey quote we shared, “Welcome to Dunbar Penitentiary,” was meant as an aside to demonstrate teenage sensibility and break the tension, which it did. But while we explained that the view represented just 6 percent of the 600-plus perspectives we collected, the quote’s prominence in the Herald-Leader implied otherwise.
Though our accompanying slides reflected some of the positive responses in the data—including the fact that a majority of students accept or even welcome the new reality of tighter school security—we should have verbally emphasized the affirmative results of the survey, too.
The feedback from our survey, which we designed and disseminated in coordination with teachers and administrators, indicated that some students are not experiencing the school safety policies as expected or intended by adult decision-makers. Therefore, we recommended soliciting student sentiment about the new measures as part of an ongoing intergenerational conversation.
The presentation we made to the working group constitutes a broader effort to enlist students as partners to identify and implement solutions to school safety challenges. Other data we highlighted came from research the Student Voice Team conducted in three geographically diverse high schools which yielded rich feedback about student engagement and belonging. Consider that of the 1,552 students we surveyed, only 32 percent reported feeling that they are valued members of their school community.
Feeling valued, stimulated and included are inextricably connected to perceptions of safety. While we know a single solution cannot remedy such a complex issue, conversations across the state have taught us that a multifaceted approach—which recognizes safety as intellectual, physical, emotional and social—may.
Thousands of experts across the country, including the ones highlighted in our testimony, have confirmed that identifying student marginalization sooner is the best tool we have for stemming school violence later. This means that listening to student perspectives on school climate is essential. And it is why we have been field-testing student-led school climate analysis and are now supporting students, teachers, and administrators across the state who want to do similar work.
As intended, the testimony in Prestonsburg was conveyed in a manner and tone that evoked a positive follow-up exchange. The subsequent conversations with the legislators, law enforcement representatives, and other experts in attendance reflected an interest in improving security rollouts with a special sensitivity toward those students who may feel apart from the mainstream.
It is worth noting that much of the energy that launched and continues to drive the Student Voice Team comes from Dunbar High School students, which says much about the school itself. Dunbar has a history of leadership in integrating student voice into daily life, as evidenced in their school-supported student walkout last year and the sustained growth of the Lamplighter, their acclaimed student newspaper. Principal Betsy Rains and other Dunbar educators have nurtured student capacity to question and think critically, which plays no small part in our success.
We regret that the story we were trying to tell about the value of students in making schools safer in any way misconstrued what Dunbar is doing to protect its students. Our partnership with this school is at the heart of why an initiative that began with a handful of Fayette County teenagers has become a model for others across Kentucky and the country elevating meaningful student voice to make our schools the best they can possibly be.
The Kentucky Student Voice Team is a statewide organization of young people who are co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools & communities as research, policy & advocacy partners.
It was founded in 2012 at the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an independent, nonpartisan, citizen-led organization working to improve education in Kentucky—early childhood through postsecondary. Since 2021, KSVT has been an independent organization.
This op-ed originally ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader.