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North Carolina Students on the Future of School

We asked students across the state to share qualities of impactful teachers, wishes for the future of school, and advice for decision-makers.

Photo of a school library

By Kate Brown and Sara-Kay Mooney

August 31, 2020

Teach For America Eastern North Carolina and Charlotte-Piedmont Triad teamed up to hear from five student leaders from across the state about their experiences, ideas, and hopes for the future of schooling in North Carolina. Their perspectives are both challenging and inspiring. Hear more from these dynamic leaders below as they describe what worked and what didn’t work in their educational experience thus far. This is second in a two-part series. Catch up on student perspective in part one here.


Meet the Students 

  • Anyia Rising ninth grader in Tarboro, North Carolina 
  • Blanca Rising 12th grader in Greensboro, North Carolina 
  • Eilyn Rising 12th grader in Charlotte, North Carolina 
  • Katelyn Rising 12th grader in Henderson, North Carolina 
  • Khris Rising 12th grader in Henderson, North Carolina 

Qualities of Impactful Teachers

We asked the students to tell us about some of their most impactful teachers. Each one immediately rattled off names and stories with great enthusiasm. These inspiring classroom leaders had in common that they were supportive and motivational. For Katelyn, one of her favorite teachers “pushed me to become a leader and work hard in school.” Similarly, Blanca noted that when she was falling behind on assignments in an AP course, her teacher checked in with her about it and provided concrete supports to help her get back on track. 

Eilyn spoke of the importance of authenticity, telling us about a beloved teacher from middle school who was down to earth and relatable. “She was real with our class and funny. We connected,” she says.

Khris described his most impactful teacher as helping students feel a sense of belonging at school. “He made you feel at home,” he says. Aniya spoke of two teachers who both exposed her to opportunities. “They showed me that there were so many possibilities for me that I didn't even know were possible,” she explains. “They supported me unconditionally and I'm so thankful for them.” 

Wishes for the Future of School

When we asked students their opinions on what they want to be true for the future of school, they responded with a broad range of ideas and recommendations. Blanca wished schools operated with more thorough contingency plans; she specifically mentioned that she wished her school had been “more prepared” to better address emergency situations like COVID-19. Khris expressed a desire to see schools cater to the needs of individual students more accurately and specifically. Anyia wished schools could de-emphasize standardized testing. She described these tests as creating undue stress for students. “ I don’t feel like these tests truly show a person’s knowledge,” she adds. 

Eilyn and Katelyn both homed in on equity issues that they have seen at play in their own schooling experiences. Eilyn noted that schools in Charlotte are “segregated, with more wealthy schools receiving more resources,” expressing a desire to see a shift in those inequities. She also added that she wanted schools to offer more support for immigrant students. Katelyn also voiced her wish to see schools offer more opportunities for all students, sharing specifically about how her schools took her on college visits each year beginning in elementary school. She wants to see schools provide early exposure to opportunities, particularly for students coming from low-income backgrounds. 

“[My teachers] showed me that there were so many possibilities for me that I didn't even know were possible. They supported me unconditionally and I'm so thankful for them.”


Rising ninth grader

Advice for Decision-Makers

We wrapped up our interviews by asking the students what they wanted to share with people making decisions about their school.

Blanca acknowledged that the pandemic has set many students behind. She called on decision-makers to be “more understanding and helpful” to those facing deep challenges and needs related to the effects of COVID-19.

Khris spoke about the extreme stress accompanying heavy academic workloads. “Stress should never be a factor for students,” he says. “We already have other things outside of school that we worry about. The workload takes a toll. I don’t want it to be a burden on students.” His advice to those making decisions at his school? Alleviate the homework load a bit by giving students more long-term assignments as opposed to nightly assignments. 

Anyia encouraged decision-makers to listen to students. “Ask the students.” Getting student input, she said, would allow for more nuanced decision-making and would allow for more targeted differentiation based on specific needs of specific students. “What I want might be different from what my peers want,” she notes. Different approaches might be more effective for different classes and different student groups.  

Katelyn urged decision-makers to capitalize on the sense of pride already existing within school communities: “Don’t sway away from the passion for the children doing well and achieving their goals, but continue to build on this.”