Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Sudeshna Barman
White Station High School
How many times have you complained about how your cafeteria lunch tastes, or how often food fights happen? How dingy the halls are? How the bathrooms always run out of soap and toilet paper?
And how many times have you stopped midway through your complaint, knowing that no one’s listening and that nothing may ever be done about it?
Now several groups are taking advantage of the critical transition period created by the colossal Memphis City Schools-Shelby County Schools merger to implement positive changes in local public school administration.
Foremost among them is Bridge Builders CHANGE, a leadership program for high school students run by the well-known local organization BRIDGES. Bridge Builders CHANGE has been working for the last two years to create a Student Congress where student representatives from area high schools bring thoughts and suggestions to the SCS School Board.
Corinne McClure, a White Station senior and longtime member of the group, said, “Bridge Builders CHANGE is a diverse group of 15 youth from all over the Greater Memphis area—from public, private, charter schools. We work to improve social justice in our city, especially involving youth.”
The 15 students, each a paid intern, are divided into groups, and each group tackles a different year-long project. McClure has dedicated herself to the creation of the Student Congress for the last two years.
She describes the Student Congress as a “mechanism for youth in public school system to have their voices heard.”
“We’re the ones going to school every day, so it should be our opinions and our decisions that are seen in the schools, not just a bunch of adults,” McClure said.
The Congress’ structure is simple.
Two representatives are elected from each high school. A single eighth grader is elected from each middle school. Each high school has a sister middle school, and the two high school representatives meet with the elected eighth grader twice a year. After hearing concerns from the middle school, the high school students will then carry these concerns to the school board.
Students select representatives, but principals must approve them “for accountability purposes,” according to McClure.
“I think one of my favorite parts about the student congress is that there are no requirements. You don’t have to have a certain GPA, you don’t have to be in the honors program; it’s open to anybody who wants to be a part of it,” she said.
“I believe that it’s important to hear from students regarding their education, said Bridge Builders CHANGE supporter and Vice President of Allie Prescott & Partners, LLC, Dr. Barbara Prescott In schools, they are the primary customer and, when given the opportunity, they are very responsible in sharing their thoughts about what works best for them. Equally important, the Student Congress provides an opportunity to teach students important leadership, problem solving and negotiation skills that are a critical to their education and will be valuable to them in their adult lives.”
The Student Congress is taking the place of what used to be the Student Advisory Board, which “was not very effective,” in McClure’s words. She and fellow interns collected data for almost an entire year before beginning draft proposals of the Congress.
The Bridge Builders CHANGE interns then worked with the Board’s policy department. They finalized Policy 6061 this fall and presented it to the board on Nov. 22. The vote was a unanimous “yes.”
“It’s a policy; it’s an actual thing that will be implemented next year,” McClure confirmed.
McClure believes her experience with Bridge Builders CHANGE has been “empowering.”
“It’s been absolutely incredible to be listened to by the school board, by the policy department,” McClure said. “So many students don’t get the opportunity to work closely with these people, so all they see are these figureheads. And that’s not the case at all. They’re great people. They’re willing to work with you. [In fact] they want to see more youth involvement. Being able to do this gives me a lot of hope for the youth of the future.”