“The voices of young people have not really been acknowledged in the policy conversation, and so we decided to run the design charrette with kids, and it was awesome,” said Avashia. “They were able to speak from their experience and not get bogged down by questions of budget or politics or logistics, but just express what's worked for then, what's been hard for them, and what could be done differently in September.”
The session was documented by a sketchnote artist, while Avashia’s students reflected on their needs and what schools might do without in September. However the new year looks, schools will operate with significant constraints, so it is vital to reduce clutter and identify what is essential, a process the researchers playfully refer to as ”Marie Kondo-ing” priorities and curriculum.
Reich emphasizes that curricular efficiency does not mean concentrating on core standards but, as expressed by student voice, nourishing values like relationships and engagement through opportunities for art, recreation and social connections. For example, some students proposed eSports recreation leagues with blended teacher and student teams; others imagined hosting classes on Minecraft and Fortnite; some students proposed designating home as the place for curriculum, and school as the place for relationships.
“There are all these great ideas to consider, but if people can only do one thing, it would be to run their own charrette,” said Mehta.
Values Eat Logistics For Breakfast
A pillar of the charrette protocol is to prioritize values over logistics. Early on, participants are asked to identify core values such as relationships, flexibility and an emphasis on social justice. Values are the broth of school culture and should define how schools are structured, rather than the reverse.
“There is a lot of discussion about how to space the students, which days students will go to school, how to transport students to school, and so forth,” states the report. “These are important discussions and we do not want to minimize the importance of keeping students safe. But if they are not grounded in values or principles about what we want for students and what produces good educational experiences, then they are not likely to work or achieve their best results.”
Building around core values puts the student at the centre of the experience, which can be particularly beneficial for kids who are underserved or struggling.
“If you aren't leading with your values, you're leading with politics and you're leading with things that don't acknowledge what kids just went through,” said Avashia. “A lot of my kids have already experienced different kinds of trauma and now we have this collective trauma. We need them to have a strong relationship with an adult who can really help them re-engage with learning and with school. If we started with values, that's where it would lead us, but because we're starting with logistics we're going to end up creating learning environments where kids can't learn because they don’t feel safe.”
From Ownership to Equity
The charrette design protocols generate ideas from those who stand to be most impacted by decisions in regard to pandemic schooling, but their inclusive design also engenders a sense of ownership and buy-in from students and stakeholders. Otherwise, as the report warns, “people will resent what they perceive as constraints imposed from above, whereas they tend to own what they create.”
“It's more likely that if young people feel like they have voice and ownership and are part of the process of reopening and recreating schools, that they will be more likely to be excited to participate in them,” said Reich.
And, the sense of ownership produced through participatory design can help engage underserved students. The report underscores that involving diverse learners in design and decision-making is fundamental for establishing genuine equity.
“We tend not to think about disadvantaged students as if they had agency and thoughts of their own,” said Mehta. “So the more that you design with such students, the more likely the solutions that you're going to devise are going to be the kinds of solutions that are going to work for them.”
One of the major themes that percolated from the spring sessions is the need for a liberatory approach to equity, which not only encourages academic success for students of color and underserved youth but, as the report recommends, it also involves a need to unpack “existing systems, structures, processes, pedagogies, and culture to see how they can be made more equitable.”