Politicians. Education board members. School administrators. Teachers. Parents.
Everyone, it seems, has a say in how the education system works—academically, financially, socially. Everyone, that is, except the students themselves.
“We’re asking, ‘What are youth getting out of their school experience?’” posed Grace Hall ’16. “What we’re realizing is that their voices are not always heard.”
Hall is part of a team of student researchers and faculty members who are setting out to change that. The team, led by sociology professor Ana Campos-Holland, is currently engaged in a research project that focuses on educational reform through busing programs that bring youth of color to predominantly-white suburban community schools and diverse urban magnet schools. The methodology of the research has included interviews with more than 70 middle and high school-aged students of color currently participating in these busing programs.
The interviews aim to examine how peer culture differs in these programs and how these students integrate into their schools and neighborhoods’ peer cultures. The team hopes to use this qualitative data to influence education policy that includes racial and ethnic integration programs, bringing into account peer culture and young people’s experiences.
“The kids are talking about what matters to them,” said Campos-Holland. “What we’re finding is that the suburban, mostly white schools in these programs are not doing any curriculum work that helps white students acknowledge their privilege or that helps students of color integrate into the schools’ peer culture; youth of color are being thrown into traditional schools and struggling.”
Campos-Holland added that the magnet schools—many of which have been created to provide youth of color with better education opportunities—are showing success in prioritizing diversity.
The research project comes as an extension of a previous project Campos-Holland conducted on friendship amongst youth. One of the student researchers, Luis Enrique Ramos ’16, said he started to notice trends in the data when the youths were asked about their school experiences in general. Interested in education policy, Ramos hypothesized that the students’ experiences were directly related to education reform and pitched the idea to Campos-Holland to investigate the idea further.
Ramos has conducted research with Campos-Holland since 2013 and hopes to continue his work after graduation this spring. He and Hall are joined by eight other Connecticut College students on the research team, designing the research methods, interviewing the middle and high school students, and managing data.
Education professor Dana Wright, who is lending her expertise in education reform and policy to the research team, said the plan is to publish the research findings in sociology and education journals in hopes that reaching a larger audience will help affect policy.
Wright added that Connecticut College offers a unique opportunity for not only students to publish with faculty members, but for collaboration between academic departments.
“At larger research universities, departments are so large that faculty members rarely collaborate across campus,” Wright said. “But on a project like this, we realized that sociology and education could work together—and Connecticut College gave us that opportunity.”
Recently, the website experiment.com invited 36 liberal arts colleges to participate in a crowdsourcing effort for research projects, and the Conn research team was one of nine chosen to participate. The team is requesting $4,000 for the project, which will allow for student researchers to continue the project in the summer; the project with the highest number of backers will also receive an additional $2,000.