Students Speak: Why We Need Safe and Supportive Schools

Research shows: “Listening closely to what students… say about the challenges many of them face and how schools can help is critical for… rethinking policies and practices.” (Williams, et al, 2018).  TLPI convened a legislative briefing where students from Massachusetts’ high schools shared with legislators what they need from their schools in order to learn and do well.  The students’ comments make a powerful argument for why we need to include their voice in education reform efforts.

What the students had to say about why we need safe and supportive schools:

“If there were more opportunities for us to tell you what is really important to our learning, I think one thing you would hear over and over again is “it’s all about the relationships.” And if adults really listened to us, they might come up with new and better ways to help schools improve so more students can succeed. They might look at things like staff turnover, or the number of long-term subs being used, or surveys that ask students if they have mentors at school, just to name a few possibilities. We don’t have all the answers, but we know what we need.” – sophomore
“It would go a long way to help if there were teachers from the community who could understand the needs of students of color. I think the lack of understanding plays a big role in students having a bond with teachers. I feel like if more teachers understood our backgrounds, things would go better because teachers would know how to talk to students and have relationships with them.  Students often put their guard up because teachers can’t relate to the students.   If teachers understood our backgrounds, they might know how to de-escalate situations better and make it easier for students.”    -junior

I feel the most supported and learn best when I feel teachers care about my personal growth.”   
When you have anxiety, you’re always going to feel like you’re a burden to someone. This is especially difficult at school because, as students, some of us spend more time with teachers and counselors than we do with our own families. They are the people who teach us and help set us up for our futures. We want to feel understood and accepted.”   – sophomore
“So many students don’t think of the IEP as something positive, it is more like something to be embarrassed about. We shouldn’t feel second class for having an IEP. I personally am able to be open with my teachers when I need help. But other friends feel they have to keep their IEPs secret because if you admit you have an IEP when you are slower in class or don’t understand the questions, students view you differently and often start calling you words like “stupid” or “SPED.”  That feels awful.”  – junior


Throughout the afternoon, students shared their perspectives on the importance of positive relationships with adults at school, and on why creating a safe and supportive school is critical in helping them reach their potential, and in addressing issues that they and their peers face. Students described their experiences related to academic achievement, learning differences, bullying, mental health issues and more.

Learn more at
A new project for student voice in educational decision making.

We are so grateful to the legislative co-sponsors of this event, Massachusetts State Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Massachusetts State Rep. Ruth Balser, and to the high school students for their brave and powerful testimony.

To read more about students’ perspectives on why we need safe and supportive schools, please click here for a focus group report written following listening and learning sessions held last spring with 73 urban middle and high school students across Massachusetts.




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