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Equity and Empathy Ambassadors program amplifies student voices in CHCCS

Nyah Hamlett, Ed.D., superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, pictured at the Board of Education's August 12 meeting.

The Equity and Empathy Ambassadors are a group of high school students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools that collaborate directly with the superintendent to develop equitable policies for students in the district.

Nyah Hamlett, the superintendent of CHCCS, said she developed and created the program to amplify student voices in the school district.

“I felt like it was really important since I've been in the superintendency — I've been here for three years — to have a direct connection to students,” Hamlett said.

Hamlett said the program is a good opportunity for CHCCS students to collaborate across schools. 

“We have four high schools so they have the opportunity to collaborate across schools to really develop their own leadership skills, but also to really represent their school community in taking what we talk about and the work that we do back to their school in order to improve the culture and climate of their schools,” she said. 

The program is application-based. Forty students are selected to participate and meet with Hamlett regularly to learn about district initiatives, policies and programs.

Hamlett said the students in the program have implemented wellness days, made recommendations to the school board about school safety, advocated for teacher professional development and helped revise grading and homework policy.

Though the students also advocated for eliminating class rank, Hamlett said class rank is codified in the state law so the district decided to move from a valedictorian designation to the Latin honor system.

Andy Jenks, the chief communications officer for CHCCS, said student voice is critical to having the best possible learning environment.

“It's more than just feeling as if they're working on this,” he said. “They are actually doing the this meaningful work and we're very intentional about involving them. On that level, it's critically important to the success of our district.” 

Terrence Foushee, the district's Blue Ribbon specialist, works with the Equity and Empathy Ambassadors in the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program and said their current goals are about mental health awareness and uniform scheduling.

If a class is not offered at a CHCCS high school, Foushee said having a consistent schedule would allow students to take courses offered at other high schools.

He said the program has been transformative for many students because they set the norms for how they conduct meetings, how to be culturally aware of one another and how to engage with one another.

“I appreciate the fact that Equity and Empathy Ambassadors really takes into account making sure that we have a diverse set of students,” Foushee said. “That is not all academic based and  that our students are really students representing a bunch of diverse ethnic, cultural, racial, gender backgrounds and gender expressions.” 

Foushee said the district still has a serious achievement gap that it is trying to close. He said students are perceptive enough to know what would make their school district more equitable and more inclusive for all students within the district.

“When we actually have those students who represent so many different diverse backgrounds, they have the ability to tell us about their experience, use their ability to also work together and learn from each other to help change the day-to-day life within any of our high schools,” Foushee said.

@DTHCityState |

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