NHS junior shares experience with Elevating Student Voices Program

students presenting at proctorsAbigail Sandvik joined the Elevating Student Voices (ESV) Program at Niskayuna High School in October 2023. She recently served as the moderator for the ESV Summit at Proctors Theatre. We asked her to share the experiences she’s had participating in the program.


Q: What first interested you in the program?

AS: For me, the appeal of ESV was that it allowed me to facilitate discussions. The opportunity to guide discussions of others my age who were experiencing similar issues at their respective schools was exciting for me as it gave me the ability to shape my own perspectives on current issues while helping others find their voice. As much as I enjoy sharing my thoughts on an issue it is also important to recognize that others might not have the confidence to speak up and share their thoughts. This led me to believe that the most important thing I can do as a facilitator is to help others find their voice and speak up. 


Q: What kind of experiences/lessons have you learned since becoming involved in ESV?

AS: It can be very difficult to listen to those we disagree with at times, but we might miss something important if we choose to ignore them. As a facilitator, my job was to guide the discussion, ask questions, and engage everyone in a manner that allowed people to feel comfortable expressing their thoughts on a particular topic. This was difficult at times when some people’s opinions differed from their peers, but I have noticed that the most interesting and productive discussions are those in which people start out with a disagreement but work to a common verdict by questioning each other’s opinions in a constructive way.  


Q: Can you describe what it was like to serve as the moderator at today’s event?

AS: In short, it was super cool. I had picked out my outfit a week in advance and selected one of my mom’s suit jackets to wear. I was very excited to conduct the discussion and speak with the panel members, but I was also quite nervous leading up to the event. I had prepared a short list of guiding questions, but most of what I asked the panelists was based on their responses to my guiding questions. 

As I stood at the podium I felt the gaze of 150+ people on me which was overwhelming at first, but I knew that everyone in the audience was working towards the same goal as I was, helping students find their voice. This thought filled me with energy and enthusiasm, giving me the confidence to use my voice to begin asking my questions. 

During the panel discussion I was able to hear and work with a variety of different perspectives which made navigating the discussion difficult at times, but I formed many of my follow up questions based on what I thought the audience would wonder about, and based on what I thought could best segue into the next guiding question.


Q: What are your goals or aspirations for the program and its impact on NCSD?

AS: I hope that more students will realize that the impact they can have on their communities is much greater than they might think. From what I have observed, many students notice things within the school that can be improved, but they do not believe that their feedback will be listened to so they do not speak up. I too shared this belief until I joined the ESV program in which I learned that there is a lot going on behind the scenes to improve various aspects of the district which have also concerned students. 

Another important point is that the ESV program enabled my peers and I to share our concerns with other students across the capitol region and problem solve together. Hearing from students from different districts helped my peers at NCSD ESV and I decided on the topic of our project this year. I believe that this program has the potential to benefit many students in NY state and I would love to see more students become involved and share their voices. 

Along with student involvement I would love to see more educators in the district become involved with ESV. Although students are very capable of initiating change, it takes everyone to create and maintain a positive environment.