When the pandemic hit Washington, a trio of students from Sammamish thought it would only affect them for a few weeks, nothing more. Still, they felt the statewide school closures were momentous enough that they should try to record what was happening.
Using Google Forms, they launched a survey for high school students thinking maybe they could reference the answers as historical documents for school projects.
Using just their personal social media accounts, they received more than 200 responses.
Now that schools are closed for the rest of the year, students Neela Agarwal, Ava Finn and Esteban Ortiz-Villacorta want to hear from more of their peers. The trio — all juniors at Skyline High School in the Issaquah School District — launched a new version of the survey for the entire state. Instead of just catching impressions of the moment, they want to collect data and ideas that might ensure student voices influence decision making.
The three students are trying to get the survey to high schoolers across the state by reaching out to student groups, school principals and other community partners. After the survey closes June 19, they’ll share the data with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and other school decision makers and through social media so other young people can read it. You can encourage any high school students you know to respond here.
“At the end of the day, we’re the ones being impacted,” Ortiz-Villacorta said. “It’s our education, and it’s the way that we get shaped for the future and get prepared.”
They said creating the survey and pushing it beyond their social circle gives them a sense of having some input or control over what comes next, and hope it will do the same for others.
The responses from their first survey sent out soon after school buildings closed seemed genuine, they said.
“Kids weren’t writing jokes,” said Agarwal. “There were thoughtful responses and heavy responses.” Students wrote about their frustrations with school district reactions, their worries about grades and their annoyance at not having a say in what was happening.
“We just felt so validated by everything we were hearing,” said Finn. “Because it’s like, ‘Oh I feel that way, too,’ It was just a really cool way to connect with people.”
The anonymous survey asks questions about academic issues, like taking AP tests and getting enough credits to graduate. It also focuses heavily on life outside school, like mental health issues, the effects of isolation and social connections.
Finn said they want officials to be aware of and plan for the ways young people will need additional mental health support, including for issues such as eating disorders. “The more we can do to bring that to light in a way that is anonymous and that respects the individual,” but informs decision makers in students’ own words, she said, is crucial.
School is about more than grades, Agarwal said. And for some students, it’s the only way they can access a trusted adult. She hopes students will feel comfortable expressing those needs in the survey to help leaders take them into consideration when planning for the fall.
“We recommend that people take the time to take this and take it seriously because nothing’s going to change if we’re not outlining the problems,” Ortiz-Villacorta said. There is power in numbers, and if multiple people outline the same problem then leaders are more likely to respond.
“And at the end of day, especially now, the most powerful tool that we have is our voices and our experiences,” he said. “What better time than now to use them?”