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PHILADELPHIA – When Nikki Adeli was young, she didn’t like to raise her hand in class to ask questions.

It’s hard to believe. The 18-year-old is now known for her ability to confidently express herself. This fall, Adeli was invited to join the board of Student Voice, a national nonprofit organization that works to include students in the conversation about education.

Adeli is a senior at Science Leadership Academy, a public magnet school in Philadelphia. That’s where The Hechinger Report found her on a Sunday morning last month, at the annual EduCon conference held at her school. She shared her thoughts on why students need to speak up in school, how they use technology and what she has learned in high school.

Q: Why do you believe student opinions about education are important?

Nikki Adeli, first person from the left, works with fellow students during the EduCon 2.7 conference at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Credit: Nichole Dobo

A: I really think student voice is important because so often we have students who are left out of the conversation about their own education. You always hear about politicians, and teachers — sometimes teachers, but not all the time — but there is never a student who is in the board room. I think this was an opportunity to not only have students be a part of the conversation about education reform, but also have students be a part of the conversation within the classroom.

Q: Give me a student’s perspective on digital tools and the classroom. 

It is such a privilege to have it, and not everyone has it, even though they should. I think as a student I really grasp the concept of using it as a tool in the classroom, rather than using it as another tool of distraction. But I think the ability for faculty and staff to incorporate technology in the classroom also speaks a lot to the student. It shows they are going to trust you with this really important tool.

Q: Does this help you learn to use technology, and social media, in a responsible way?

Social media can be used as a really strong tool — even in the classroom. I know many times in Science Leadership Academy we use hashtags to start a conversation about democracy or American history, so it’s not like social media is a bad thing that we need to take out of the classroom.

Q: How has technology in the classroom helped you learn?

A: Children grasp concepts much faster when it is in the format of technology we use. I am constantly on my phone, constantly connected. I think students are able to go outside their comfort zone if they have some things they are comfortable with, like the technology. I know when I came to this school I was very hesitant to ask questions.

Q: I would not have guessed this. You don’t seem shy. What changed?

A: When I was a young child in Mississippi, and then in middle school in Philadelphia, every time I raised my hand a teacher would give me a weird look. It was like: Did I not explain something well? It wasn’t that. I was just curious about something. When I came to Science Leadership Academy I understood it was a safe environment. I could ask a question. I could make a mistake. The way that my teachers would assign projects — it meant you could not complete the assignment without asking questions.

Q: We all change as we grow up. Do you think about how what you share about yourself online might create a legacy? 

A: I know college admissions officers are going to be looking at me on Twitter. So I am always cautious about my words on there, because I don’t want people to see a tweet about me and judge me right away. If someone went through my Twitter feed I would want them to see someone who is very attentive to things that are going on in the news. Because that’s who I am.

Q: How did you learn that colleges might check you out online?

A: My college counselor said to us: “You are going into your senior year, you need to think about this.” He does a really super job of calling us out. He follows all of us on Twitter and he is friends with most of us on Facebook. He is always watching over us. My college counselor and my adviser both said they know we are really great kids, and they don’t want us to say something online that might make someone think otherwise.

Q: Are you looking forward to college?

A: All the places I applied, I would be happy at any of them. It’s just a matter of “please give me enough financial aid.” I am looking forward to stepping outside my comfort zone. I think that’s where I do my best.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

This story about student voice in education was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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Nichole Dobo is a national writer for The Hechinger Report and she manages audience engagement strategy. She has more than 15 years of experience writing about teaching and learning. Her work has been...

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