Nora Fayad, Nikole Gomez, Samee Johnson and Nizhoni Long come from different backgrounds, but they each share one thing in common: The support they’ve received from their public schools have helped them overcome barriers to learning.
The four students explained how important equity is and how it’s helped them be successful in school and life to nearly 200 educators and community leaders during a student voices panel at The Equity Event on April 7 in Glendale.
For Samee Johnson, a junior at Camelback High School with a visual disability, the person at her school who has helped her most is her choir teacher.
Video by Arizona School Boards Association: Samee Johnson
“He’s not only my choir teacher, but my daily advisor. He’s the one who has access to all my grades, and he can see when I’m struggling in a class and he’ll talk to me about it,” Johnson said. “During midterms and finals, he’s helped me through so many anxiety attacks.”
Johnson also credited Stand & Serve, where she is a peer educator, with helping her come out of her shell and become comfortable talking to large groups of people. Stand & Serve is a non-profit that seeks to unite schools, families and communities to cultivate good and end bad through peer-based solutions.
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“Students know best what they’re needs are, and we should definitely listen to them and make them part of the conversation,” said Nuvia Enriquez, director of multicultural community engagement for Expect More Arizona, who moderated the student panel.
Nizhoni Long, a junior at Westview High School who is Navajo, Hopi and Mexican, said that she’s learned so much through helping children with special needs through Best Buddies, a campus club that works to end judgement of people’s intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Video by Arizona School Boards Association: Nizhoni Long
Long said her math teacher has really motivated her.
“My math teacher, she’s been there for me since the day I walked into class and I continue to talk to her about things that happen in and out of class,” Long said. “I remember the day I was trying to submit a scholarship and I was running around and trying to figure out ‘Oh, how am I going to get this in on time?’ She helped me copy it so we could send it through email.”
For Nora Fayad, a freshman at Tempe High School who grew up in a conservative Muslim Palestinian household and is now homeless, Stand & Serve has provided essential support.
Video by Arizona School Boards Association: Nora Fayad
“I feel Stand & Serve is the most progressive group that I’ve been in my entire school career, because they’ve been very accepting. They’ve helped me overcome a lot of the things I’ve struggled with like anxiety,” Fayad said. “I’m here today talking in front of all these people, because they’ve encouraged me to talk in front of children and pushed me a little outside of my comfort zone.”
Fayad said that every single one of her teachers since her first day of school has had an impact on her.
“Every teacher has said something,” Fayad said. “Teachers just really need to be aware of everything that they say especially to students, because we’re kids and we’ll think about everything that you say, even if you don’t think that we do.”
Nikole Gomez, a senior at Washington High School plans to be a teacher and is vice president of the Arizona chapter of Educators Rising. She, like Long, will be the first in her family to attend college.
Video by Arizona School Boards Association: Nikole Gomez
Gomez said Educators Rising, a career and technical student organization, has helped her overcome many challenges and given her many opportunities she’s grateful for.
“To be able to talk about education, actually have an emphasis on student voice, talk about their needs and what has inspired them to become a teacher has been such an amazing experience,” Gomez said. “It’s something that I’d never imagined for myself before.”
Gomez said that every one of her teachers inspired her in some way and, solidified my passion for teaching.
“They don’t just go from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., they stay there until 5 p.m. working with me and pushing me beyond what I think I’m capable of,” Gomez said. “They have shown me that if you want something really bad and you work really hard for it that you are truly unstoppable as a student.”
Video by David Marino Jr./AZEdNews: Student voices panel at The Equity Event
Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews
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