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Community Conversation: Elevating Student Voices

The March 22 Community Conversation event provided a unique opportunity for NTPS School Board members to engage directly with students. 

Students seated in the auditorium listening with the speaker on the stage.
Students in the auditorium listening to Brian Smith present.

Student representatives from Envision Career Academy and River Ridge, North Thurston, and Timberline High Schools spent the morning learning from their peers and providing their perspectives to Board members and district leaders.

The two-hour event kicked off with an address from Dr. Brian Smith, Director of Research for Character Strong, an organization dedicated to strengthening social and emotional learning in schools. Watch the video presentation >> Belonging was the central theme of the opening address. Dr. Smith shared that students’ feelings of belonging in school contribute to their academic success. Furthermore, while peer relationships are important, it is the school’s teachers that have the biggest impact on the sense of belonging and connection students feel in our schools.

After a lunch break, participants reconvened for small-table discussions. The conversations that followed focused on the value of diversity to students and the importance of rooting out systemic inequities that impede student success.

Students at a table with Equity Director Antonio Standifer
Students and Equity Director Antonio Standifer talking at a table.

Student conversations were robust and engaging. A few highlights from one table discussion include the following:

  • Not honoring a person’s pronouns, or engaging in misguided jokes, can be hurtful. (Envision Career Academy student)
  • I like my teachers. I think I can go to them for help. (Envision Career Academy student)
  • Pride in your school is important and can help draw people into the school community. (Timberline High School student
  • Having more teachers of color would help students feel more comfortable and build a sense of community in school. (North Thurston High School student)

School Board leaders and district staff joined students at the tables and had an opportunity to learn from the student attendees. “This was an opportunity for us to listen to a variety of student perspectives,” said School Board President Dave Newkirk. “Today’s conversations will help the School Board help students. The only way to make NTPS work better is to work together.”

The March 22 Community Conversation is an excellent example of NTPS elevating student voices and the district’s commitment to creating a learning environment where every student feels welcomed, respected, and empowered to reach their educational goals.

Timberline high school participants posing outside the Koval Center.Timberline student participants posing outside the Koval Center.