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Guardians Within

By Jordan Montgomery

This essay is part of the Student Agenda Essay Series, where students are sharing the pillars of the National Student Agenda that resonate most, and why they take action.

Jordan, pictured here, is a senior at Charlotte Teacher Early College in North Carolina.

The Hamilton soundtrack quickly became an elementary school playlist — I was “young, scrappy, and hungry, and [was not] throwin' away my shot." And, it was the only music my heavily guarded Chromebook would let me listen to. Asking permission to go work outside the classroom became a routine for me, with my teachers granting me special permission as long as I had my earbuds in and was staying focused. So, my earbuds got me through the days as a coping mechanism for navigating the school environment, drowning out distractions, and helping me concentrate. I am a daydreamer; meaning my thoughts rush a mile a minute, and music becomes a companion for me, just like your morning coffee or stretch. Despite my academics getting me on the honor rolls, I faced a lot of accusations of disrespect, and insubordination from teachers. I would turn my music up because it felt like my only defense.

The recurring theme in my education wasn't just about me; it was a witness to inequitable disciplinary solutions. Students were being sent to in-school suspension for mundane reasons like using the bathroom or asking a question. This pattern led to a decline in interest and engagement in learning. Who could blame them — in an office job, one wouldn't face suspension for bathroom breaks or scolding for wearing earbuds. Why treat students differently?

This disparity in treatment creates cycles of trauma, alienating students from their own education. Lack of inclusion in decision-making further exacerbated the issue. Not knowing how to advocate for me and being quiet yet smart, I became a target for discipline. . Amidst the struggle, I helped initiate R.I.S.E, a student and parent advocacy group, during 6th grade. We protested against gun violence and attended school board meetings, bringing about change and awareness. However, in 7th grade, a new principal dismantled the group, turning the school environment into something like a classed-up prison.

The system's selective attention toward students involved in fights created division among peers. Those following the rules felt unsupported, while rule-breakers received special opportunities. The over-policing of students' bodies was ignored. The body slams came unnoticed.  Meanwhile, my schoolmates were facing serious issues like drugs, violence, and, tragically, death. The system seemed designed to push students out based on predetermined paths and sideline. Thus, my voice, and many others, were easily stifled. The lack of communication between the school administration environment and our needs took a toll on our mental well-being.

By 8th grade, I opted for homeschooling, delving into educational advocacy, attending college classes, and studying abroad. My experience shows it the educational system failed to communicate and provide the necessary support for many, leaving a lasting impact on me and my peers. Feeling safe in schools is not just about gun safety, even though it is a big issue. It is also about making sure students student feel listened to, safe, and happy in their environment. We need inclusion protection, and most importantly equity.