Documenting Impact: Bringing New and Creative Ideas  

Students changed the answers to issues that we’ve had for years, just by asking [questions].

Glenn Vander Zee, District Superintendent

Besides supporting the work and adding nuance and specificity to the work of the district, students have brought new, innovative, and impactful ideas; ideas which, without creating spaces for youth to participate, the district would not have come up with, let alone prioritized. 

Teresa Marquez argued that often, it was important to give students space to come up with their own ideas and questions. Commonly, when youth are invited to participate in educational policy and practice conversations, we ask them to participate or comment within certain “bounds”, on certain topics, and in certain ways. We asked student leaders and students who were a part of these efforts whether they felt heard. Several times, students shared that despite feeling that they were being heard, it often felt as if what they really wanted to share or what they really wanted to talk about was not what they were “supposed to be talking about.” Conversely, when students are given space to shift the conversation, powerful things can happen. In the case of the Panorama Survey, Jenner Perez shared that it was important that district staff “didn’t just give [students] a survey and say ‘here, respond’ but for students to have a say on whether the actual questions were meaningful, and it turned out that they had questions of their own.” Not only did students suggest questions from their experience, providing much needed insight, but they were creative and resourceful in thinking about the distribution of the survey and the interpretation of the results.

Throughout this process within ESUHSD, students have already offered novel perspectives. These have changed the nature of the conversations, brought new and creative visions for supporting the district’s vision, and often, brought the educational practices closer to the needs, realities, and aspirations of youth. Whether through bringing new ideas for professional development at the school and the district levels, articulating new and creative ways to use LCFF funds, informing the design of the district’s new high schools, or changing school-specific efforts and decisions around curriculum, students’ contributions have begun to have a concrete impact throughout The District. Lupe Navarro explains student-led efforts for the creation of Connections, a biweekly homeroom class focused on social emotional development and other changes to “classes” at her school. 

“I think that the students didn’t quite like it or didn’t quite agree with how it was happening, and were bored, and it was evident because kids were ditching class… we [student leaders] were able to discuss how we wanted to change that. There was a cultural shift…it entirely changed everything. The students had choices in what classes they wanted to take, what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to apply it to their life.” 

Lupe Navarro, Student Leader

Participatory Budgeting

In 2015, CFJ youth leaders worked with Principal Chiala to run the first school-based participatory budgeting process in the state. Through this model, students, parents and Overfelt staff decided how to spend $50,000 of the school’s budget through a democratic decision-making process. The process increased student and community engagement and created a stronger school climate built on trust and relationships.
Results of the student Participatory Budgeting vote at Overfelt High School (2015). Image credit: CFJ

Chiala lays out who created the budget: 

“80% of the participants were students, but community members, students, parents, faculty could develop project ideas. The steering committee would take these ideas and decide which ones were most viable. This was not me, this was students and community members. CFJ and others would come up with ways they could spend the $50,000. Some were big ideas that would take the whole $50,000 and some were little ideas. The community would vote and whatever they voted on is what we would spend that $50,000 on.”

Vito Chiala, Principal, William C. Overfelt High School


Driver’s Education Initiative

“Some of the things the steering committee chose to spend the money on I never would have considered. They said: ‘We want to spend $25,000 on Drivers Education for students who can’t afford it. Students couldn’t afford the behind-the-wheel training. It’s $380 per student.’ That was our biggest vote-getter all three years.”

Vito Chiala, Principal, William C. Overfelt High School

Field trips to colleges, new athletic gear, career centers, etc.

“There were things that the money went to that were completely in line with our goals, and things that were complete needs for kids that I might not have thought of.” 

Vito Chiala, Principal, William C. Overfelt High School
Principal Chiala and CFJ student leaders at Overfelt High School in ESUHSD present at a Participatory Budgeting event (2015). Image credit: CFJ