“Curriculum For Students, By Students”

The choice of curriculum plays a critical role in what students learn and how they process information about the world around them, but students often lack input into the curriculum materials that they experience in school. Rarer still are opportunities for students to develop their own curriculum that builds essential knowledge and mindsets among their peers. Yet this is what a group of students has done in partnership with Boston Public Schools (BPS) over the past two years. Their process and the curriculum that has resulted from it offers a promising example of student voice and leadership in action.

Keondré McClay has been at the forefront of the curriculum development process. A recent BPS alumnus, he served for two years as the student representative on the Boston School Committee and participated in task forces related to the opportunity gap, social-emotional learning, and other topics. Curriculum was a frequent topic of conversation in these forums, particularly the challenge of finding curriculum that reflects the student population of Boston Public Schools.

This stream of thinking dovetailed with ongoing work to raise awareness among BPS teachers and district leaders of Culturally and Linguistically Sustaining Practices (CLSP). As outlined by the BPS Office of Opportunity Gaps, CLSP “draw upon, infuse and evoke students’ existing schema, experiences, funds of knowledge, and perspectives to optimally facilitate learning.” In other words, CLSP creates learning experiences centered on students’ own cultural backgrounds, understandings, and points of view. Under the leadership of Dr. Colin Rose, the Office of Opportunity Gaps has developed a curriculum for staff that draws from scholarship on culturally sustaining pedagogy and aims to build an understanding of CLSP among BPS educators.

The CLSP training developed for staff offered a powerful model—and starting point—for students focused on the need for a more representative curriculum. As an intern in the Office of Opportunity Gaps, and with the support of the Office of Student, Family and Community Advancement, Keondré worked with a small team of students in the Boston Student Advisory Council summer program to examine the training materials developed for staff and rework it for a student audience. They streamlined the academic language that underpins the curriculum and sought ways to promote dialogue among students.

The resulting curriculum—known as the Youth Empowered Learning: CLSP training—offers a series of twelve 30-minute lessons on topics such as “Equity vs. Equality,” “Forms of Biases,” and “Culture and Identity.” The curriculum culminates in a lesson entitled “Implementation: Ownership of Your Education,” in which students “Make the connection to how classroom instruction can be connected and relevant to their lives and experiences.”

Lessons are facilitated by teams of two students trained in delivering the content; they are supported by an adult ally within their school, who also receives training on the curriculum. Each lesson includes an icebreaker, the presentation of new material, and an opportunity for discussion. To assess students’ understanding, the curriculum incorporates rubrics that trainers can use to identify specific competencies while they’re giving a lesson as well as pre- and post-surveys to be administered at the start and end of the series. As Keondré describes, the post-survey also asks students to draw on their own life experiences, “so it becomes more personal.”  

Keondré partnered with the Boston Student Advisory Council last summer to finalize the curriculum materials and train a number of student facilitators. He is currently working with five BPS schools to pilot the curriculum this winter. Each school is taking a slightly different approach to implementation, with some schools incorporating the curriculum into student government meetings and others planning to use it as part of history or government courses. And even as he helps prepare for this pilot, Keondré is already looking ahead to the next step: engaging with community-based organizations to bring parents, family members, and other community members into the conversation.

For Keondré and the other students who have helped develop this curriculum, the process has aimed to “shift how students are engaging with the curriculum. Who can give better feedback on curriculum (outside of teachers) than students?” Thanks to his leadership and the work of many dedicated peers and district staff, BPS students will soon be able to experience a novel form of learning: “curriculum for students, by students.”


To learn about how high-quality curriculum can support deeper learning and better student outcomes, join the Rennie Center on Wednesday, December 4th for our event on High-Quality Curriculum: A Foundation for Student Success.

To hear more from students—as well as parents, educators, and community members—about how schools can prepare all learners for success, join the Rennie Center on Monday, December 9th for our Community Forum on the Future of Education.