“Each student needs to feel like they have an opportunity to succeed…confident in knowing the work they’re doing is putting them in a better place.” This sentiment was shared by Ben Gurewitz, a student panelist at the Connecting Communities of Courage Summit and was echoed by over 170 attendees at this first-of-its kind event held at Facebook on October 27.

Facebook’s Jamie Lockwood and Stand for Children’s Joaquin Tamayo prepare to kick off the event.

Co-hosted by Facebook Education and the National School Climate Center (NSCC), the summit brought together leaders from schools, universities, government agencies, education-related nonprofits and advocacy organizations, including a number of student-run groups. The goal was to discuss ideas and best practices around creating educational experiences that are safe, inclusive, and engaging for students in P-12 schools.

The NSCC is a nonprofit that offers services and resources to help schools and communities nurture social and emotional, civic and academic growth for all students. NSCC is a partner for our Facebook inspirED program that promotes social-emotional learning (SEL) via student-run groups at participating schools.

Co-facilitators David Adams and Merrit Jones.

Research shows that a positive school climate correlates with higher academic outcomes, higher graduation rates, an increased motivation to learn, decreased student absenteeism, lower rates of student suspension and discipline issues, and a dramatic decrease in risky behaviors.

The room was already vibrating with anticipation (fueled by copious amounts of caffeine and a hearty breakfast) when our co-facilitators Merrit Jones, director of partnerships at Student Voice, and David Adams, director of social emotional learning at Urban Assembly, took the stage to kick off the discussion.

Darlene Faster, COO at NSCC, and Dorothy Espelage, professor of psychology at the University of Florida, shared a definition of school climate and its components and discussed research findings about the state of the field.

The National School Climate Center shared information and analysis.

Panel of diverse voices
established the framework

Next up, was a panel of stakeholders—including student voices— to help define the issues, ideas, and way forward, laying the groundwork for group discussions throughout the day. Dena Simmons, director of education at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (program partner for inspirED), set a lively tone as moderator.

Panelists (in this order on stage) included:

  1. Moderator Dena Simmons of Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence
  2. Ben Gurewitz, University of California at Davis sophomore and co-founder of the Diverse Learners Coalition
  3. Stacie Molnar-Main, education consultant for school climate and social emotional learning at Pennsylvania Department of Education
  4. Steve Becton, associate program director for urban education at Facing History and Ourselves
  5. Hana Mangat, Winston Churchill High School (MD) student and co-founder of youth-led Sikh Kid 2 Kid Program
  6. Julie Foster-Straw, program director at re:imagine/ATL
  7. Elsie Rodriquez, superintendent of schools at Monroe-Woodbury Central School District Central Valley, New York

Steve Becton amused the audience and panelists with a story about a teacher from his childhood. Click the photo to see a video of the entire panel discussion on the Facebook Education page.

The panel dug deep into issues related to school climate, addressing topics such as how to define safety in schools, why civic engagement needs to be stressed as much as academic achievement, how to include parents and the larger community in school plans and policies, the importance of elevating “student voice,” ways to teach digital literacy (to teachers as well as students), how to nurture social-emotional skill sets, and much more.

The entire panel presentation was broadcast live on the Facebook Education page and the video is still available for viewing. Check out the comments and share your feedback!

Break-out sessions inspired
personal insights and ideas

The rest of the day was comprised of break-out sessions with groups of about 20 people each. They tackled a variety of topics and worked to include every perspective from researcher to educator to student. Each group developed and shared a recommendation to address the challenges and opportunities, which will be included in an action strategy report next month.

Work groups tackled school climate topics.

Some convened outdoors in the sunshine!

#CommunityOfCourage on social media.

Of course, the event also offered plenty of opportunities for people to meet and mingle, offer their spontaneous thoughts with other attendees, and share #CommunityOfCourage posts with friends and colleagues on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

At the end of the day, a member of the Communities of Courage Facebook group shared a word-cloud analysis of the day-long conversations and insights from the break-out groups. No surprise—students were at the center of it! As they should be.

Work groups shared their ideas and insights of the day in a private Facebook group.

The way forward:
empowered students and teachers

The feedback from attendees has been very encouraging. Over 89 percent said they feel empowered “to create more inclusive, safe, and engaged schools.” Over 91 percent said they would recommend a friend to attend a future summit. We’re excited to continue to work with this amazing cross sector, intergenerational community of leaders to create positive change in our schools and communities and give every young person the chance to succeed in school, career and life!

If you or anyone you know (student or teacher) wants to empower students to create a more positive school climate, you can learn how to start a student inspirED team here.