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2023 Student Belonging and Connection Legislative Agenda

black teenagers gathered and smiling together

Background

Voices empowers children, youth, and families disproportionately impacted by inequitable outcomes as agents in the creation of policy solutions to ignite change in their communities. Through our direct engagement with youth advocates and hearing from the professionals serving families, Voices embraces a variety of perspectives to create trauma-informed and healing centered spaces for advocates to share their stories and reconcile trauma through systems change.

For far too long, policies in our country and Commonwealth have perpetuated racism interpersonally, institutionally, and systemically, known as structural racism. The impact of historical racism and trauma show up in disparities in access and outcomes, including income and wealth, educational opportunities, and health. Our young people today still face the impact of historical racism within the systems they encounter and the communities they live. To ensure all children in Virginia have the opportunity to thrive despite race, geography or income, we must focus on the root causes that have produced inequitable distribution of resources, eliminate barriers to fair and equal participation and dismantle social and institutional biases.


Student Belonging and Connection

Positive school climates are necessary for students to feel safe, accepted, and connected to their school environments.

Research demonstrates that students who feel like they belong in school and have positive relationships with peers and school staff will perform better in school. A positive school climate relies on several factors including school-based mental health resources, language access resources, and accepting environments based on race, ethnicity, gender, or income bracket.

Students in Virginia have increasingly identified mental health concerns as well as fear and bullying in their schools. Policies that threaten gender expression and critical thinking about race and history have been constantly in the news. Voices supports policies that will make schools better prepared to support all students and will keep bullying, othering, and law enforcement out of schools.

Student Belonging and Connection Priorities

  1. Support full funding of public education with an emphasis on wraparound supports for student mental health and community services.
  2. Support additional resources for students learning English by increasing the ratio of ELL instructors to students.
  3. Defend against efforts to make schools more difficult environments for students of color and transgender students — such as the proposed “model policies” that create contentious school environments and place parents and their children at odds. Oppose attempts to establish new or additional linkages between schools and law enforcement officials.

Civic Participation and Leadership

The United States has failed to endorse the basic human rights suggested by the United Nations as Rights of the Child. While we have a number of child protections in place, we do not often treat children as full persons. We believe children and youth are the experts in their own lives, yet we do not empower them to make decisions impacting their lives.

Civic Participation and Leadership Priorities

  1. Voices supports youth in making decisions in how to participate in democratic process. We support lowering the voting age in certain local elections to age 16, an initiative developed and supported by youth advocates who would like to weigh in on Mayor, Council and School Board elections.

Voices is a member of the Fund Our Schools coalition.

For more information, contact Kristin Lennox.