Let’s go back to the high school days. We followed rules, completed assignments, and succumbed to the pressure put upon us by adults who ‘couldn’t possibly understand what we were going through.’ The program needed reform, but who were we as students to call for it? Most take a ‘that’s just how it is’ mindset when it comes to the high school system, but at the Leon Foundation of Excellence we work to break those barriers. Students are powerful, unique, and independent young adults; it is imperative that students have a say in their own learning. After all, what’s a better way to develop programs that maximize student benefit than asking students themselves?

According to Gretchen Brion-Meisels, a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, when academies work to partner with their students, rather than purely governing them, it results in the creation of programs that are actually more effective in meeting the goals of the school as well as better supporting the healthy development of young minds (Shafer, 2016). Adults can be wary of this teacher-student partnership, fearing that they may be taken advantage of, however, Brion-Meisels reminds us that “listening to young people doesn’t mean unilaterally considering their perspective,” Instead, “it means recognizing that young people have a perspective on the world that adults can’t share, and that their perspective should be welcomed alongside the wisdom that adult perspectives bring” (Schafer, 2016). The reformation of the high school system calls for a true student-teacher partnership to be put in place. The students should be responsible for their own learning, yet positively influenced by wise adults, and held accountable with adult supervision.

Brion-Meisels reports five main steps in order to best encourage autonomy among high school students. The five steps are as follows:

  1. Collect student feedback regularly
  2. Engage students to study and assess their school formally
  3. Include students as representatives on leadership teams
  4. Hold meetings to discuss student learning and student-teacher relations
  5. Consider young people as stakeholders and partners in their own school system

At the Leon Foundation of Excellence, we work to establish these steps in and out of the academic environment. The Foundation of Excellence program (http://leonfe.org/leon-youth-clubs/ ) holds workshop-style sessions once a week to establish skills of independence, autonomy, and effective collaboration. Along with teaching overall self-sufficiency and collaboration skills, we help to teach the students essential professional skills, good study habits, how to take on an empowered mindset, and ultimately, how to take their future into their own hands and work hard to establish success for themselves. Not all student have a good support system within their home environment.  

The Leon Foundation of Excellence steps in as an extra ‘family’ and support network to guide students through this crucial time in their lives when they are exploring their identity and choosing their life path, providing a platform for student voice and empowerment.


Shafer, Leah. “Giving Students a Voice.” Harvard Graduate School of Education, 18 Aug. 2016, www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/16/08/giving-students-voice.