Rally Picture

The TeenBloc at A+ Schools, which organizes community support of Pittsburgh Public Schools, has been writing a Student Bill of Rights and pressing for its acceptance since last spring. Now comes the hard part: Getting the city school board to sign on to it.

“They want it to be a living document, so they want it to be adopted into the Pittsburgh Public Schools student code of conduct,” explains Pam Little-Poole, who runs TeenBloc for A+ Schools. “It is one of the things they are ultimately fighting for now.”

The Bill, beginning, “We the students of Pittsburgh Public Schools, in order to form a more perfect district …,” says that the students want:

  • “to be able to exercise our First Amendment rights … to the maximum extent possible”
  • “opportunities to regularly discuss issues that impact our education with school board members, district administration, and school administration”
  • “the right to equitable access to academic resources”
  • “to be in a positive learning environment that does not resemble a prison and where the fundamental dignity of all is protected”
  • “positive classrooms that feel safe, respectful and welcoming where everyone can learn”
  • “to go to schools free from bullying by students and adults”
  • “to be educated by teachers who are knowledgeable about their discipline, who use various teaching strategies … who are responsive to student input, and who are caring, supportive and culturally competent”
  • “to be disciplined on an individual basis”
  • “to be able to participate in accelerated academic classes and have access to our school’s college counselor” and
  • “efficient and safe transportation to school and school events”

“I think they’re well aware that it’s not going to be easy,” allows Little-Poole. But she believes they can succeed. “This particular group is incredibly invested in this work. They are becoming very skilled organizers.”

They are currently meeting with individual board members and hope to get district Superintendent Linda Lane’s support, as well as all nine school-board members – or at least a majority of five. “There are several board members who are strongly in support of this and will champion the Student Bill of Rights,” reports Little-Poole. “There are some on the fence.”

The core of TeenBloc’s student organizers collectively designed the Bill of Rights, sharing it last spring at peer roundtables. Beginning in October, they held rallies with city high-school students, trying to drum up support for the Bill. They also undertook a three-week campaign to secure 25 percent of Pittsburgh high-school students’s yes votes on the Bill.

Today they are conducting a Student Bill of Rights survey that looks at 11th graders’ familiarity with its issues and what different resources exist in different high schools, aiming to ask opinions of 25 percent, or 400 members, of the junior class.

“It will hopefully give [TeenBloc] more ammunition to support their efforts,” says Little-Poole. Already, she says, based on the student vote and rallies, they feel as if they have “enormous support and resonance that they are on the right track.”

Marty Levine's journalism has appeared in Time, Salon.com and throughout Pennsylvania and has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He teaches magazine writing for Creative Nonfiction magazine.