Celebrating Five Years of More Equitable, Inclusive, and Student-Driven Experiences in Schools

DOOL students gather in the Dimmitt Middle School courtyard. Transforming the courtyard into a community gathering space was one of the youth-led projects.

On a beautiful August morning in Renton, WA, Dimmitt Middle School filled with parents, teachers, administrators, community members – and, most importantly, students – all eager to join in on a community celebration to recognize the accomplishments of the Designing Our Own Learning (DOOL) summer program participants.

DOOL is a BELONG Partners program, now in its fifth year, which brings students and teachers together to catalyze youth voice and leadership. The program promotes teacher/student collaboration as they work together to co-create projects that foster a more equitable, inclusive, and student-driven experience at schools.

Students, teachers, and BELONG Partners facilitators celebrate on the last day of DOOL.

Centering the voices of those who are least heard in school

All too often in schools, students’ voices are not heard and their ideas for positive change aren’t taken seriously. At DOOL we help to build a school community where students and teachers listen deeply to each other’s perspectives, practice shared educator and student leadership, and work collaboratively to make their school better.

As one of this year’s youth said, “DOOL helped me realize the teachers are in it for us and they care too – they care about Dimmitt and want to make it better and they are willing to listen to us and we can work together to do it.” By centering the voices of those least heard within schools (students, particularly those with marginalized identities), we are building the sort of equitable, connected communities that are at the heart of healthy schools and societies. Check out our article on youth voice and student leadership for research that supports the importance of programs like DOOL.

Creating a community where everyone feels safe and knows they belong

The DOOL Charter

At this years’ summer program, the participants co-created a school charter. This set of beliefs and commitments is aimed at creating a community of safety and belonging within DOOL, Dimmitt, and beyond (see adjacent image). The participants lived deeply into the practices outlined in their charter during the summer program. And they’ve already brought those practices to the wider Dimmitt school community. As one student said, “DOOL helped us see what we could do… we all got to have a say in what happened and that let us know… we can help change the school for the better. We did it at DOOL and so I believe we can do it at Dimmitt.”

The student leaders design projects which make their school a better place

A DOOL student shares their solidarity group’s recommendations for school day announcements.

During DOOL we broke into three solidarity groups – intergenerational and intersectional groups of students and teachers. These groups create projects focused on promoting student leadership and building equitable community at Dimmitt. One solidarity group focused on fundamentally changing the way daily announcements are made. They worked on adding a visual component to the announcements in order to increase accessibility, inclusion, and student engagement. Those changes have already been successfully implemented to start the school year!

Another Solidarity Group proposed re-shaping the advisory/homeroom period to implement DOOL values and practices. They wanted to include greater focus on community-building and student agency. A participant in that group spoke movingly of their prior experience of feeling excluded and misunderstood during home room. Their desire was to help foster DOOL-like inclusion and care in that space and other spaces going forward.

One of the DOOL solidarity groups presents their ideas during the community celebration.

The vision of that student and their solidarity group has helped guide the homeroom experience Dimmitt-wide since the first day of school this year. As one youth who had previously felt excluded now reflects, “overall the school is better. I notice less bullying than last year. I haven’t been bullied at all this year which is a big improvement”.  And another said “One specific thing that is different is we don’t have the same old advisory lessons. It’s amazing! At DOOL we got to share what we wanted it to be and now advisory is a lot better. That is a good amount of change. We did that because of DOOL”.

While meeting in a seldom-used school courtyard, the third solidarity group decided to literally take matters into their own hands. The young people saw the potential for the forlorn courtyard to become a beautiful space to build authentic community at Dimmitt. They pulled weeds, pressure washed the surfaces, and decorated the space. Their vision was a collaborative space where students can learn, gather during lunch, and engage in community events.

The students and teachers share their work with the community

That third solidarity group made so much progress in the courtyard that part of the DOOL community celebration in August was held there, and their vision came to life! Families, students, administrators, teachers, and community members smiled in the sun. They got to know each other, listened to the wise words of the students, danced, and witnessed poetry created collaboratively during the DOOL experience. It was a beautiful ground-breaking for a space that can become a hub of ongoing community, creativity, and student leadership at Dimmitt.

Now that it is October, this summer’s participants have had the opportunity to see the impact of their work on the school – and on themselves. As one student said, “At DOOL, I learned how to believe in myself and put my ideas out there. The idea that started with my group was a real project that is helping Dimmitt right now. I already made Dimmitt better, so now I’m more confident sharing my ideas at school and in other places”. Another young person reflected that, “DOOL helped school feel better. Our voices really got heard and we got to do the things together and it did make a difference.” And a third said, “I notice how much the school has changed – people are being nicer and it feels better.”

DOOL participants share their written reflections in the courtyard during the community celebration.

In the courtyard during the August celebration, the students shared poems that participants had created collaboratively during the program:

“DOOL is a hummingbird, energetically pollinating and contributing to the greater good. We cultivate an environment of growth and joy. You may not see our work, but you feel our impact.”

“DOOL is the support beams that keep the ceiling from falling down… The feeling that you can always be yourself and not worry about other’s judgement… When we are genuinely cared for everyone wins.”

“DOOL is a drawing – turning ideas into a reality. Art that is to be admired and inspire. Passing on the pencil for the next person to draw…”

Thanks to Foundry10 and Dare2Be for funding this year’s DOOL. Heartfelt appreciation to the Dimmitt Middle School staff, students, and leadership for supporting this transformative experience for the community.

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