Last updated on March 23, 2022
In recent years, Northwest has faced numerous struggles with satisfying students’ wants and needs and providing spaces for students to feel heard by the administration. These issues intensified and came to a head at the beginning of the pandemic when a group of students calling themselves ‘Survivors of Northwest’ composed and sent out an email to the Northwest community containing a list of concerns, issues, and demands. Since then there has been a large turnover of faculty and staff and Northwest welcomed a new head of school, Ray Wilson. Upon beginning at Northwest, Ray made it a goal to connect with students and give them spaces to be heard. Community connection is hard in the age of COVID-19 restrictions, but Ray has put effort into making Northwest a place where students feel that they matter. In addition to weekly meetings with groups of 30 students over lunch, Ray called on 3 students who had been a part of Survivors of Northwest to aid him in this effort. Together they formed the Student Advisory Union or SAU.
The SAU in collaboration with Ray was founded by Araiza S. ‘23, Charlotte F. ‘23, and Mathilde V. ‘23. The group stemmed from conversations between Ray and these students which they found very productive. They said that in these meetings Ray was easy to talk to and very genuine in his sentiment of wanting to make Northwest a better place for all students. Throughout the conversations, they realized many of the problems that students had been experiencing in the past were still ongoing. Together Araiza, Charlotte, and Mathilde realized that the work of finding a solution to these issues could be an effort not just led by them, but could come from conversations just like the ones they were having with a larger amount of the student body.
One thing that has become increasingly clear in past years is that in spite of Northwest’s goal to be an equitable institution with a focus on social justice, many students face adversity in school from both teachers and peers. The SAU hopes to be able to give a voice to students who come from all backgrounds with a variety of identities to hear the challenges they face but also to create change. Araiza has been a member of the Northwest community for almost 6 years and said she has experienced many instances where students bring concerns to the administration, yet feel that no real change was made. In helping to start the SAU, she wants to work together with students who may be underrepresented in the community or who don’t easily step into leadership roles, and let their voices be heard in order to make real progress in the school. This will no doubt be hard work, but these students feel that a direct communication line to the administration is something that Northwest is missing, and yet is vital to changing student experiences. The group stated that “The school is for [the students]” and student perspectives should be centered when decisions are made.
The implementation of any form of student government at Northwest is completely foreign to the school and is in keeping with our new head of school’s mission to connect with and form healthy relationships with students. Ray came to Northwest as the head of school from another small private school in the Seattle area, so while he was familiar with the way our community operates, he was a stranger to most people in the school. Since being back in person Ray has taken advantage of lunchtimes and sporting events as opportunities to informally connect with students. Now, he is taking more formal steps by supporting and inspiring the SAU and the founders of it. Initially, when Ray reached out to Araiza, Charlotte, and Mathilde, his goals were to listen to them talk about their experiences at Northwest and gain a deeper understanding of the areas in which the school could improve. As the group started to move towards a formal collaboration between students and faculty, Ray looked to this new group to aid him in creating visible structural changes in the community. “As the Head of School, I need to be in partnership with students, both formally and informally,” said Ray. “My partnership with the SAU will be a formal path towards engendering continuous improvement and opportunities for student leadership.” He added that this provides a unique opportunity for students to represent the voices of their peers and champion real change.
Moving forward, the group hopes to continue to grow and become woven into the fabric of the school. Ray sees SAU becoming a “prominent and dependable group of students who are working on behalf of the student community in a proactive and focused manner.” The group, which now consists of a small collection of students from different grades and backgrounds has the opportunity to achieve great change and progress for the student body. The founders of the group hope that the Student Advisory Union will grow to be able to form committees focused on certain projects and develop programs that all students can get involved in.