Volume 14, 2008

Writing to be Heard

Eva Gold, Kristine Lewis, Gretchen Suess, Cheryl Jones-Walker, Sonia Rosen



Research for Action (RFA) has worked with student members of Youth United for Change (YUC) and Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) for the past two and half years. Over that time, these young people have committed themselves to learning social science research methods and conducted a study of their changing schools. We think you will find their reports compelling; they give voice to students' lived experience at their high schools.

The motivation of these young people to be youth researchers stems from their activist commitment to make their high schools better places for all students. As youth researchers, their research is intended to support the YUC and PSU small schools campaigns at Kensington, Olney, and West Philadelphia High Schools.

Some of the achievements of these youth researchers are their willingness to do the hard work of learning new skills and completing the entire research process, including creating outstanding research products. Throughout, the youth researchers have developed their presentation skills as they spoke about their work in a range of settings, including a public action for their small schools campaigns, presentations to Teach for America teachers, a panel discussion for Bryn Mawr College education students, and a seminar with RFA research staff and board.

During the first year of the project (December 2004-May 2005), the youth researchers learned the skills of participant-observation and taking fieldnotes, and keeping reflective journals. Their fieldnotes and journals became the data for their first product, a graphic road map that illustrated the course of their small schools campaigns that year (see Appendix A). The youth researchers then attended the RFA Youth in Action summer research camp where they learned how to conduct interviews, focus groups and surveys, as well as do document searches using the internet. In the second year of the project, the youth researchers applied their new research skills to questions they posed about their changing schools. From September 2005 to May 2006, they read about small schools (see the Bibliography) and they gathered data (see Appendix B for the research instruments that guided their data collection). In addition, they kept reflective journals. In August 2006 the youth researchers attended an RFA Writing to be Heard Institute, where they worked as an interpretive community, analyzing their data individually, in school teams and across teams, and turning their research into written products. Fall 2006 was devoted to revision, and finalizing their reports.

RFA staff served as guides, teachers and mentors throughout this project. Marsha Pincus, a Philadelphia Writing Project Teacher-Consultant and high school English teacher, helped design and lead the Writing to be Heard summer institute. The principals of the three new small Kensington schools, Olney 705 and West Philadelphia welcomed the students as researchers. The teachers at the Kensington small schools and Olney 705 were generous in their support of the data collection. Parents of PSU members openly shared their experiences and beliefs with the youth researchers. The adult chapter organizers worked with the youth researchers and RFA to determine important audiences for the youth research and to help formulate recommendations based upon the research findings.

As school reformers, there is much to learn from young people about their learning environments. We believe these reports demonstrate the powerful contributions young people can make to their high school communities when they engage in rigorous and systematic investigations of their schools and are surrounded by a community of caring and concerned adults committed to urban youth and school improvement. The findings in these reports are the conclusions of the youth researchers themselves. They are now fully ready for the next phase of their work-- sharing their research findings with a wide range of audiences concerned about the future of urban public high schools. We welcome these youth researchers to the broader research community concerned with social justice and high school transformation.

The Papers

Building Respectful Communities--Kensington Students Examine Adult-Student Relationships in their New Small Schools

What Olney Teachers Say about Their Students and School

Parents Speak Up and Out About Parent Participation in Urban Public High Schools



A Research for Action project in cooperation with Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union.

This publication is one of three in the Writing to Be Heard series:

This project was made possible through the generous support of the Samuel S. Fels Fund, the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Philadelphia Foundation, and the Surdna Foundation. The views expressed within are solely those of the authors.

Copies of these reports may be downloaded for free from Printed bound booklets are available for shipping and handling costs by calling 215.823.2500. Readers are free to download, copy, and use this report provided the work is credited to the authors and Research for Action and is not distributed or used for commerical purposes.

Copyright 2006

Related materials from Research for Action:

A Guide to Facilitating Action Research for Youth

This guide, developed for Youth United for Change in 2004 to facilitate action research for youth, includes a case study of Oakland youth and provides a framework for supporting youth action research. The guide describes action research, how to address a problem and develop a research question, how to analyze findings, and then how to use the findings to promote positive change. It includes activities for youth, as well as a number of additional resources and references.



3701 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Tel: (215) 823-2500
Fax: (215) 823-2510

Through research and action, Research for Action
seeks to improve the education opportunities and
outcomes of urban youth by strengthening public
schools and enriching the civic and community
dialogue about public education.


Youth United for Change

1910 N. Front Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
Tel: (215) 423-9588
Fax: (215) 423-2468

Youth United for Change (YUC) is dedicated to
developing young leaders in Philadelphia and
providing them with training and tools to improve
the quality of their education and communities.


Philadelphia Student Union

1315 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Tel: (215) 546-3290
Fax: (215) 471-5970

Philadelphia Student Union's mission is to assist
Philadelphia public high school students in organizing to transform
public schools into places where all young people receive a high quality education,
and to help young people across schools and communities connect their issues
to build power locally and regionally.