brandon fleming and three students speak on stage

School board members say they like to hear more from students, so Brandon Fleming brought three Atlanta high schoolers to speak at the CUBE Annual Conference Morning Plenary on Friday.

Fleming is the assistant debate coach at Harvard University and founder/CEO of the Harvard Diversity Project, which is an Atlanta-based pipeline program that recruits, trains, and sends highly motivated black youth into a summer debate residency at Harvard College.

Students, he told the audience, are not disinterested. Instead, they are disengaged. “You cannot reach people that you do not understand,” he said.

To help with that understanding, he introduced the three students, Zayla Bryant, Jayla Jackson, and Connor Lannaman, who are part of Fleming’s program.

Fleming asked the students to tell the audience what they want school board members to understand about their school experiences.

Lannaman remembered a classroom where a teacher’s reaction to a sleeping student was to roll her eyes but continue teaching, giving him the impression that students were valued for their presence, not their ideas. “We are not objects; we are people, but in our student experience, we are shuffled from class to class,” he said.

Bryant recalls being excited about transitioning to high school and expecting teachers to be ready to help her. Instead, she found the teachers weren’t there for her. “My education no longer belonged to me because my teachers no longer cared,” she said.

Jackson asked the audience to allow for student ideas in school. Everything in the lives of children is controlled by adults. The only thing they don’t control is ideas. When you allow students to express their ideas, “you make students feel alive, she said. “Please make us feel alive.”

After the session, Fleming signed copies of his new book, Miseducated: A Memoir.

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