Student Voice for School Change



Youth Participatory Action Research, Minorities, Middle school

District Partner

  • Ames

Project Duration

From 2016 to 2017

Background and Purpose

Mirroring national and statewide trends, students of color in the Ames Community School District experience disparities in achievement and overrepresentation in disciplinary actions. In an effort to understand and change these differential outcomes, a pilot study was conducted in which the Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) was employed on a cohort of middle school students in Ames.

YPAR is a process of inquiry that emphasizes students' voice and creates opportunities for young people to study their own social contexts and learn how to improve conditions and create greater equity within them. With guidance from university researchers, the youth became investigators and conducted research using standard social science research techniques and then drew upon creative expressive forms such as spoken word, poetry, visual arts, music, and theater to present their findings.

This research investigated the impact that students' voice can have on school policy and practices, particularly as it related to the educational experiences of students of color as evidenced in their engagement and success in school. Despite the precarious position of students of color in the educational system, rarely are their voices, knowledge, and experiences drawn on to address the issues that affect them. This research attempted to counter that and extend the use of a YPAR framework on middle school students in a predominantly White school.


  • Students of color have few opportunities to process racist experiences in predominately White institutions 
  • Intellectual potential often goes unrecognized in students of color
  • Many students of color feel that White teachers are unprepared when it comes to discussing or addressing racism
  • Students of color feel that there are no consequences for other students or faculty members who say or do racist things 
  • Participation in YPAR increased these students' confidence and sense of self-efficacy 

Resulting Publications 

Follow-On Grants


Julio Cammarota headshot
Cammarota, Julio

Associate Professor, Iowa State University

Seiler, Gale picture
Seiler, Gale

Associate Professor, Iowa State University