Voices to Vision

Students speak out about their educational experience and challenge us all to be better.

Why do I go to school?

The best thing about my school is...

Education fixes that would help me succeed

Student-Led R&D for the 21st Century

Like its national counterparts, Rhode Island's public education students face many obstacles during the course of their school journey. Sadly, far too many of today's middle and high schools do not offer all students the programs, classes and support structures necessary to prepare them for college, career, and responsible participation in public life.

To accelerate the understanding of the secondary school experience in Rhode Island, the Business Innovation Factory's (BIF) Student Experience Lab and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) convened a day-long youth charrette to explore students' experiences and perspectives interacting with public education in the state.

Forty students, ages 12 — 22, took part in this unique opportunity to have their voices heard and captured as part of a video autobiography that tells the story of education in Rhode Island. By sharing their experiences and walking through new doors of opportunity, students were able to brainstorm novel ideas for innovation in education.

With the introduction of this “meeting of the minds,” we hope to inspire, inform, and motivate education stakeholders to include students more fully in the innovation process and begin to design a new student experience framework - one that is personal, comprehensive and flexible for each and every student.


Students were given an enormous problem to solve:

Design a new student experience for a 21st century school where ALL students can thrive. The foundation of the experience must support different learning styles and different life circumstances.

Youth were encouraged to dream big, have fun, and stretch their minds to create this new, student-centered experience — one that provides multiple and varied opportunities for education attainment. Along the way, students were guided through a 3-step experience design process. The process aided their exploration and discovery of the factors that surround the student experience today. Students were asked to explore the social motivations for attending school. Little focus was paid to technology-driven motivations. For the day, purpose prevailed over function to set the stage for breakthrough ideas.


As our challenge came to a close, it was clear that a new equation for transformation is required that combines a web of support structures with blended learning opportunities. The results of this equation would:

  • Tightly link a student's (changing or evolving) personal, strategic, academic and financial objectives to their educational experience;
  • Connect independent education pathways together to learn from and engage with one another for the betterment of the student;
  • Provide an easily navigable process for student self-discovery and self-actualization; and
  • Engage students to develop ideas for transforming the single pathway approach to education into a multiple pathway system.


As much as real-world experience during high school helps students better decide their future career path, it is also important to have a supportive and encouraging group of people who can offer advice, guidance, and options to assist them in choosing what would work best for them while in high school and afterwards.

Many students expressed a desire for a “menu of options” where they are allowed the freedom to choose their own education path, based on individual interests and learning abilities. This not only applies to education while in middle and high school, but also options for students’ future education.

We see a clear opportunity for transformation through the integration of various webs of support with blended learning approaches and practices. How effectively (or ineffectively) students build a web of support impacts multiple facets of their success. Support webs are innovative, highly personal mechanisms that should allow students to navigate their educational journey. Existing resources should be adapted to suit the needs, desires or specific goals of each and every student.

What's Next?

In order for student-led R&D in education to work, students must believe that their voice, their research and their ideas have merit. They must believe that stakeholders in the system — teachers, principals, administrators, parents, mentors, role models, guidance counselors and community leaders — are listening and willing to take action.

As the day came to a close, the need for increased and consistent youth choice and youth voice in our education system was apparent. Youth expressed a desire to get out in the field, reach beyond brainstorming in a single room and experiment with their ideas.

We are ideally positioned to use this work to build a credible and public case for not only incorporating the student voice into ongoing conversations about innovation in education but also giving students the opportunity to reinvent their educational journey. Our mission now is to take action.