Last September, New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) hired Amallia Orman for the newly created position of Student Voice Manager. Part of her job, as she describes it, “is to listen to and accomplish real change with students, according to what they find meaningful.”
Particularly during the pandemic, it’s essential that the adults in power in the school system hear about your experiences and recognize your expertise.
“Young people are experiencing remote learning first hand and are going through so much. We are rewriting almost everything about the school system—and engaging student voice is CRITICAL,” wrote Orman in a recent email.
Before the Youth Communication office closed, we invited Orman up to our YCteen newsroom to tell us more about how students can get involved and have their voices heard. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
How did the Student Voice Manager job come about?
In 2017, a Student Voice Working group was created, made up of representatives from the DOE, teachers, and youth groups like the Borough Student Advisory Councils, the Student Voice Collaborative, and Teens Take Charge. Their task: to develop strategies and present recommendations to the Chancellor to increase student voice throughout the city’s schools. The result was the creation of this role.
Can you describe your job?
My role is to serve and listen to students and make sure their voices are heard and considered. A key step is to support, encourage, and initiate opportunities that place young people at the table when high level decisions are being made.
Right now student leaders are mostly just involved in planning events and contributing to a positive school culture. But I also want to see them involved in co-creating policies surrounding larger issues like curriculum, code of conduct, and leading restorative practices.
What would you most like to accomplish?
It’s important for me to hear from those students who feel like they can’t make change. Or who don’t even wonder about it because it feels so daunting or hopeless to them. For me to be effective and make a difference, I need to hear their ideas and concerns too.
It’s important to have a collective of voices and opinions. It’s too often the student government presidents or the A+ students who are chosen or voted in for these student leadership roles.
Do students have to have a certain GPA to work with you?
Absolutely not! In fact, I challenge stereotypes surrounding who makes a good youth leader. I’ve learned a lot from listening to and partnering with students who struggle in school. I think it’s important not to have GPA requirements for leadership opportunities.
I also want to be more inclusive about which schools and organizations I partner with. I want to offer leadership training to students at District 79 alternative schools, in summer school, or in other programs that engage diverse youth who don’t often get to see themselves in leadership roles.
How soon do you plan to offer these trainings?
Last summer I did a small pilot with summer school students at Gotham Professional Arts Academy High School. Doing a “pilot” program means trying something out, on a small scale, to see if it works and if it’s a good idea to do on a bigger scale.
We explored what “student voice” means to people, and brainstormed changes they want to see happen in their school and in the school system. Students visited DOE central headquarters, and we talked about what was important to the students, like experiencing test anxiety, not wanting to be defined by grades, and wanting to start clubs to have different art extracurriculars.
Some students took advantage of this opportunity to speak up. I appreciate this and want to meet students where they are. I keep in touch with this school and hope to expand on this idea of summer school workshops.
My goal is to have more programs to launch during the 2020-2021 school year.
Tell us about the Chancellor’s Student Advisory Council (CSAC) that you are leading.
There’s a student advisory council for each borough. The CSAC is a leadership group made up of students who represent all the Borough Student Advisory Councils (BSAC). (To participate in your BSAC, reach out to me at or your principal.)
CSAC students collaborate with DOE leadership, and influence programs and policies that affect the whole school system. For example, this year the CSAC developed resources and recommendations in the areas of student voice, mental health, and college and career readiness.
What if a student feels they are being mistreated at school?
If a student has a complaint about bullying, harassment, or discrimination, they can file a report one of two ways. This is done through a DOE system called “Respect for All.”
First, schools should have posters up in the hall to share information about “Respect for All,” and the “Respect for All” liaison for the school should be listed there, too. (There is an RFA liaison at every school.)
If the student isn’t comfortable speaking to this adult, they can file their own report online. Once you either talk to someone or log your complaint online, it launches an investigation.
If your school doesn’t have posters up, you can find your “Respect for All” liaison under General Information on your school’s website.
This is the link for information on “Respect for All.” Scroll down to find a link for submitting an online form: schools.nyc.gov/school-life/school-environment/respect-for-all
Is it possible to meet with you?
If a student has a question or a complaint about anything, they can always reach out to me. This can start a conversation, or a partnership. It’s my job to connect students with information and resources, and to support those advocating for change. I want them to know I am here to support their efforts.
Update since COVID-19: At this time I’m organizing forums for seniors and juniors for feedback on the realities of remote learning more generally, and soon, mental health.
Contact me at: [email protected] or [email protected]