Student Voices in WSHS

Emilia Caney, Opinions Editor

We all see problems and this is a great way to voice them to someone who has the power to fix them from the top down rather than fighting from the bottom up. ”

— Eric Bergeron

Most students at this school remember March 14th, the day of the Nationwide Walkout. The walkouts and marches earlier this year were all started and organized by students. After the February 14th school shooting, the students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida decided to speak up and not give up until they were heard. This spawned a movement that is still in motion encouraging students here and across the nation to speak out for change

The walkout at West Springfield High School was organized and led by about ten students, with the help faculty members to ensure it was safe and ran smoothly. Students also spoke at the walkout in front of political and educational chairmen of Massachusetts and West Side, and students could even chose whether they wanted to participate in the walkout or not. The walkout was not about gun laws, but about school safety and how it needed to be changed because the policies in place currently were not cutting it. The speeches were listened to closely, and as a result, this year’s policies for lockdowns have been changed. This change, although seemingly small, showed the power students can have if they use their voices.

The walkout isn’t the only way student voices are heard here at WSHS. Connor Sousa, a sophomore, is a member of the Massachusetts State Student Advisory Council (SSAC). The SSAC is comprised of 40 students throughout Massachusetts. These students meet monthly with members of the Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education to voice their ideas and opinions to people in positions of authority. “It’s also a great way to communicate what has gone well and what hasn’t gone well in our school and how we can be used as a model for other schools,” Connor explained. The students usually focus on issues of health and wellness and civics engagement. Although they are students themselves, they also represent students across Massachusetts, so they want to make sure their peers are heard as well. They’ve done this in many ways including gathering information from the School Climate Survey all students in MA take. By focusing on topics like wellness and civics, and using the data collected from the survey, the students on the SSAC created a civics course framework that will go into effect in 2019. They also discovered the importance of addressing the social and emotional needs of students. They were concerned by the large number of students in the state who are dealing with serious mental health issues. SACC members are working with a representative from the Board of Education to find ways to these help students, such as hiring more school psychologists and people trained in the mental health field, in order to provide more people for students to talk to and to offer coping mechanisms. Connor very much enjoys being a student voice for his peers. “I feel it’s an opportunity to get our school recognized on a state level so that we can incorporate change into our own school system here in West Springfield,” he said.

A little closer to home, students partake in the Student Advisory Council (SAC) here at West Springfield High School. The SAC meets with Superintendent Richard several times throughout the year during x-block to discuss problems they see in the school through the eyes of students. “We all see problems and this is a great way to voice them to someone who has power to fix them from the top down rather than fighting from the bottom up,” Eric Bergeron, a junior and member of the Student AdvisoryCouncil, expressed. Like the SSAC, this council is meant to give students a platform to tell people with educational authority what could be changed in order to improve the life of students and express their thoughts and feelings about the issues they encounter.

The school year isn’t the only time students make changes and use their voice. Over the summer, West Side student Nate LaPointe, junior, has participated in multiple marches throughout his high school career, most recently the 50 Miles More march. The 50 Miles More march was created to keep the fight against gun control prevalent. The march lasted from August 23-26 and went from City Hall in Worcester to the headquarters of Smith and Wesson in Springfield. “We were demanding that Smith and Wesson not manufacture weapons that are illegal in MA and donate money to gun violence prevention research,” Nate explained. Since the 50 Miles More march, their shareholders have ordered that the company do research into how their guns are used in crimes and what they’re doing to make them safer.

Having student voices be heard is becoming more and more important as the years go on and the country changes. Just because students in high school aren’t 18 doesn’t mean their opinion doesn’t matter. Students having a voice, whether in a school environment or society, has become essential to improving student life and this country. Next time you have the chance to get involved, take that step.