Mind the
student.

Frequently absent from school outreach materials is the student perspective.

The conversation around the purpose of education often bounces between two poles: at one end our desire to advance society with thoughtful and engaged citizens, and at the other end, our need to cultivate an employable workforce. Lofty notions of education are moot without practical application, and focusing on job skills does little to fulfill humanity’s craving for betterment. Today, both public and private schools find themselves tasked with navigating the capricious balance, subjected to changing tides of popular opinion swayed by new studies, policies and exposés.

But what about the students? While not prominent voices in the debate, students are starting to speak up from their unique vantage point at the eye of the storm. They live our directives. They test our public policy. And they do so with sincerity. Their only agendas are wide ruled and covered with stickers. The candid perspective they offer is crucial to the conversation, provides valuable insights into their mindsets, and often gets lost in a school’s outreach. But giving students a voice in school communication materials can be an equally important tool for both their empowerment and recruitment.

The candid perspective they offer is crucial to the conversation, provides valuable insights into their mindsets, and often gets lost in school outreach.

So what is the purpose of education according to students? Here are a few excerpts from a series of student interviews recently conducted by The Hechinger Report in collaboration with The Atlantic, and examples for how schools can incorporate these perspectives into their outreach materials.

 

"The role of education and the role of teachers is to empower students not just to do what they want, but to make mistakes."

— Caleb Carman, Grade 11, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School

Err, embrace, empower. Schools can emphasize the ways in which students play an active role, and not shy away from embracing the joy of discovery and the mistakes that come along with it. In an admissions campaign for the California Institute of the Arts (above), we emphasized the environment of creative freedom the school provides for its students.

 

"They teach you about all this stuff that happened hundreds of years ago, which, I like history, but they don’t really teach you about how to go and get a job, how to live on your own, pay this, pay that, when you actually have to do it."

— Shamus Hayes, Grade 9, Mount Abraham Union High School

By acknowledging the questions and anxieties of students, schools become empathetically poised to connect with students in the search for answers. When we designed materials to publicize the Woodbury School of Architecture’s Masters of Architecture program, we focused on the many practical opportunities for hands-on field work that the program provided to help address prospective students concerns about how a Woodbury education would prepare them for a career.

 

"I think the role of teachers and education in general is to help us progress as a society."

— Lilianna Salcedo, Grade 10, USC Hybrid High School

When a student’s natural predilection for ambition is tapped, it validates their drive to contribute to the greater good. In the above admissions ad for Oakwood School, we celebrated this sense of purpose along with the aspirational mission and philosophy of the school.

 

"I feel like school should be a place where I can learn about their culture and where they came from and them learn about mine."

— Ifetayo Kitwala, Grade 11, Baltimore School for the Arts

Schools with diverse student bodies have an opportunity to position themselves as a platform for dialogue and exposure to new communities by celebrating student differences. In our work for CalArts, we created a variety of pieces that addressed the Institute's diverse student population and highlighted their unique contributions to the community.

In reflecting student voices in communication materials, schools open the door to empowering strong “ambassadors” who feel represented in and connected to the school's public facing image.

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Stephanie Chan is a partner at Kilter, and has worked with many schools including California Institute of the Arts, Scripps College, Oakwood School, St. John's College, Children's Community School and Otis College of Art and Design on shaping their brand voice and admission materials.