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Students Working to Promote Safe Spaces in Michigan Schools

LANSING – Five members of the Student Advisory Council of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) presented to the State Board of Education today and shared their insights and work to promote safe spaces and understanding for all students in Michigan schools.

The Student Advisory Council (SAC) was created by State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice in spring 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and relative to Dr. Rice’s desire to learn from the reflections of Michigan students.

“This tragedy prompted my call to superintendents across the state to recommend students to participate in discussions with me and others in the department on how schools could be more inclusive and welcoming,” Dr. Rice said. “Our work with the Student Advisory Council has helped us understand better what students are experiencing in schools by helping lift up their voices.”

That initial student group, which first met in the fall of 2020, has become a standing advisory council, which has evolved over the past three years into a group of students—nominated by their school district leaders or current student advisory council members—who meet virtually with Dr. Rice and members of the MDE staff.

The Student Advisory Council is working on aHow to Create Safe Spaces in Schools guidance document to be shared with schools and student groups across the state.

During their presentation to the State Board of Education today, the five members of MDE’s Student Advisory Council shared their experiences and thoughts on the work and value of the council. The last names of the students and their school districts were not shared publicly to help protect their privacy.

“The students in this group come from all across the state, each with our own background, which affects how we view our environment at school,” one student said. “This diversity benefits our council. Together, we strive to properly represent the diverse student body of Michigan.”

Another member of the Student Advisory Council shared: “I’ve grown more empathetic and learned how to be more inclusive in my thinking and practices as I hear from perspectives I’ve never experienced. We learn from each other here and take the next step to teach educators and students how they can create the same safe environment.”

The advisory group has given its members the opportunity to embrace new perspectives from people of different backgrounds.

“It has helped me realize that education is not just about teaching kids lessons from a curriculum, but also teaching kids how to embrace one another’s differences and grow accustomed to voicing opinions and staying true to your beliefs,” one student noted. “It’s about teaching kids to stand up for what they believe is right and be able to thrive in a world so diverse.”

Another member of the Student Advisory Council shared that, “Overall, when a student is more engaged in reading and writing, by seeing their culture or a representation of themselves reflected in their education, they absorb new subjects better by being able to use their personal experiences to connect to their new learning.”

As the final student summarized with the State Board of Education: “The SAC is a group of extremely talented, dedicated, and inspiring students that reside in Michigan’s education system, who offer an extremely valuable piece to improving the education system—student voice. What could be better than hearing and receiving guidance directly from the source?”