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Students Develop Resource to Create Safe Spaces in Local Schools
December 13, 2023
LANSING – Michigan school districts now have a student-led resource to help districts design, create, and implement “safe spaces” in their schools—places where middle and high school students can feel comfortable discussing issues of race, racism, and other important topics.
The Michigan Department of Education Student Advisory Council has released its Safe Spaces Resource Document, A Guide for Michigan Educators. The document, developed over the past several years, is the work of current and former student advisory council members, supported by staff at the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the federally funded Region 8 Comprehensive Center.
“This document is the product of many discussions in the council and in local school districts since 2020, when the council was formed,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “Written by some of our students but informed by the thinking of many more who contributed to its ideas, it is intended to be a reference and guide to creating or extending upon safe spaces in local school districts. It is as relevant and necessary today as it was in the spring of 2020 when tensions and protests erupted after the killing of George Floyd and other Blacks.”
In the development of the resource document, council members conducted virtual listening tours with students and staff in schools that had already established safe spaces, researched, and discussed as a group the safe spaces concept. The document highlights examples of the students’ research, including defining safe spaces and why they are important. It comprises seven chapters covering the following topics:
- Establish the Purpose and Who Participates
- Prioritize and Establish Authentic Relationships
- Create and Use Safe Space Agreements
- Provide Opportunity for Dialogue
- Determine Logistics of Meetings
- Establish Roles
- Celebrate Success
Each chapter includes a what, why, and how section, as well as guiding questions related to the topic. This week, several council members provided an overview of the document to members of the State Board of Education.
MDE and the Student Advisory Council found this document necessary because student council members and other students have expressed a need for more spaces in which they can share freely and openly about challenging themes, including race and racism, that they encounter in their lives.
“The purpose is to create safe spaces for all students to use, where they have access and feel comfortable,” one of the Student Advisory Council members told the State Board on Tuesday.
State Board of Education member Dr. Judith Pritchett said that the students on the advisory council “have shown great leadership in working together, and courage to develop this document, and I’d like to see safe spaces in every middle and high school in Michigan.”
“I wish we had a safe space when I was in school–which wasn’t that long ago,” said State Board of Education President Dr. Pamala Pugh. “Our young men and women benefit from spaces in schools where they can listen, be heard, and better understand one another.”
According to StopBullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 70% of students admitted to seeing bullying in their school. Bullying can make school difficult as students can be made to feel isolated or experience other negative feelings. This resource serves as a guide to alleviate some of the pain and hardship Michigan students face by providing them with an opportunity to come together, connect, heal, grow, and learn from one another.
“I encourage all local school district leaders to consider the resources in this document, listen to their students, and work together to make safer environments in their schools and, in so doing, to create safer, better communities in which we all live,” Dr. Rice said. “I’m proud of the students who discussed and wrote out these ideas over the last few years. It took courage to do so and will take courage for other students and staff to learn from and incorporate these ideas into their schools.”
In July 2020, MDE created the Student Advisory Council in search of student input. The Student Advisory Council is composed of students from across the state, some of whom met and worked virtually as writers, editors, fact finders, and designers to create this resource.
Since that time, the council membership has grown and evolved as students have graduated and new students have been nominated by their district leaders and joined the group. The council meets monthly and, in the years since its creation, has expanded its focus to provide student perspective on a wider range of efforts in the state and MDE and to continue its focus on issues of race and racism.
In the coming months, the Student Advisory Council plans to share and discuss the Safe Spaces Resource document more broadly with school and district leaders that may be interested in creating or expanding safe spaces in their schools.