Passion in a Petition: Students make their voices heard




“So I come through the door,“ Bailey says through laughter, as their friend Bunnie starts to giggle, “and I’m like the loudest one”.

The two 8th graders sit comfortably in plush armchairs, lit by the warm glow of lamps that dot Community School Coordinator Ginny Spencer’s office at Enka Middle School. Outside of the middle school hallway, the fluorescent lights bear down on hundreds of students and they shuffle through a sea of bodies to get to class.

Both 8th graders at Enka Middle School admittedly “try to make themselves as small as possible in the hallways”, each Wednesday, they feel like they can be loud, goofy, and express themselves inside this very office.



Weekly, the non-profit Big Brothers Big Sisters hosts a group Bailey describes as a “safe space.” Bunnie adds, “we have a lot of say in the group as well, it's not just them talking about it, and we give our advice to others.” The two chatter excitedly about the group for several minutes, recounting how the students of the group were able to decide the rules for the year and how much fun they have doing the team-building exercises each week. They say their excitement is unanimous among all members of the Big Brother Big Sisters middle school group. That is why the students took matters into their own hands when they were told the group would end in early January.

The group's student members decided they would let their option be heard, and they wanted the group to continue all year, so they agreed upon a petition. 

“The petition was about expanding the group to go on longer because we liked it that much. Basically, we got the whole group to sign it. We wanted the group to go on all year," said Bailey.

“We were all so used to petitions”, said Bunnie, and them not working, so we thought we might as well.” Having their voices been met with deaf ears, more often than not, the hope was low, but as Bunnie explains, “We gave the petition to Ms.Spencer,” and from there, Ginny Spencer knew exactly what to do. She reached out to Ali, who runs the Big Brothers Big Sisters group, who gladly worked to create more curricula to continue to group through the end of the year.





Although their petition appeared to be little more than a titled sheet of notebook paper, it exposed the truth of how much these students care about the programs they partake in. Eventually, they discovered that they had successfully petitioned the school.

“When it did actually work, we were all so happy about it,” said Bailey, while Bunnie excitedly added how shocked they were that adults and teachers listened to the wants of students. “We don’t really get a say in anything we do really,” Bailey said as they contemplated why it meant so much to them that the School had decided to extend the group.

“You're going to put more effort into things you enjoy and are passionate about,” Bunnie decisively summarized.

A part of the group's enjoyment not only comes from the curriculum discussed or the activities done but also the student's freedom and ownership. “ We have a choice, to come here or not,” said Bailey, “There was a girl who was in the group at the beginning of the year, and now she’s not, but that's good because she didn’t have to”. This freedom of choice, to choose the discussion topics, boundaries, and rules, empowered these 8th graders to continue to have their voices heard. The dedication to youth leadership instilled within the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County community school Coordinator Ginny Spencer, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters led them to take the students' initiative seriously. Because of this, the students felt like they had agency over their education and ultimately continued a group that is socially and emotionally beneficial to the students of Enka Middle School.



The empowered voices of both Bunnie and Baily are one example of the work that the United for Youth network dedicates itself to. As we at UWABC continue to center our community's lived experience and wisdom, we are aware young students must be afforded openmindedness from adults. 
The UWABC-supported United for Youth Network aims to center youth leadership is a multi-generational, cross-sector cradle-to-career partnership built on the principle that "Equity and Educational Excellence are Inseparable.

To learn more about the United For Youth Network and read our Bold Community Goal, Click Here!