More than 100 students from 12 local schools met with lawmakers and the Tennessee commissioner of education to discuss education-related legislative priorities. (Courtesy photo)

As part of its school-based student advocacy program, Campaign for School Equity (CSE) organized and hosted its first Student Advocacy Day in Nashville on Tuesday, February 13.

The nonprofit organization brought more than 100 students representing 12 schools participating in the program to the Tennessee State Capitol for a full day of advocacy and learning.

Activities included a public rally at Legislative Plaza, meetings with legislators and a special session featuring Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.  Students also had the opportunity to attend and testify at committee hearings.

“Opportunities to hear from our students are always important to me,” said McQueen. “Their feedback and insight helps us to ensure our work remains student-focused.”

The CSE student advocacy training program began last fall with the purpose of preparing students to take leadership roles in community engagement on education issues.  Classes are held weekly at Fairley High School, Martin Luther King Preparatory High School, Hillcrest High School, Trezevant High School and Southwest Early College High School. Every three weeks session are held at Cordova High School, Wooddale High School, White Station High School, Kingsbury High School and Southwind High School.

Students came with their own lists of issues to discuss with legislators. (Courtesy photo)

Class participants receive hands-on instruction in conducting research, setting goals, advocacy methods, campaign development and crafting campaign pitches. Student Advocacy Day was designed for participants to learn about the legislative process first-hand and apply their newly acquired skills by sharing their concerns and priorities for the 2018 legislative session.

“Student Advocacy Day is a natural progression of our training curriculum,” said Mendell Grinter, executive director of Campaign for School Equity.

“Students were able to talk with legislators and learn how the process works, but they also came with their own lists of issues to discuss. Student voices are an important component of education advocacy – one that is often overlooked or even silenced.

“Our Student Advocacy Day in Nashville is a chance for student voices to be heard and for them to directly let legislators know what they care about and which issues affect them the most.”

State representatives meeting with the students were Karen Camper, Barbara Cooper, John DeBerry, G.A. Hardaway, Larry Miller, Johnnie Turner, Kevin Vaughn and Mark White. Tennessee senators meeting with the students were Jim Coley, Lee Harris, Brian Kelsey, Sara Kyle and Reginald Tate.

McQueen addressed the students at a special mock assembly to share the state’s education priorities and participate in a question and answer session.

(For more information about CSE and its work, visit CampaignForSchoolEquity.org.)