Colleen Toomy is a second year student at Saint Anselm College, and a student leader in the Meelia Center for Community Engagement's Access Academy which provides on-campus educational programming for underrepresented high school students in Manchester NH.
As a first semester freshman Colleen volunteered in an Access humanities course that examined human contributions from around the world. Under Colleen's leadership the Access students got the opportunity to create a new course, focused on their expressed interests. That student voice led to a human rights course, examining the UN's International Statement on Human Rights, US Bill of Rights, Malala Yousafzai's Nobel Peace Prize speech, US Civil Rights Movement, Women's Rights, Labor Rights and LGBTQ rights. Colleen has inspired student leaders in the other nine Access Academy courses to elicit greater input from Access students to revise course design and curriculum.
Through her work Colleen has also added another goal for Access Academy: to help Access students develop the confidence to assess the educational programming directed at them, and to put forth their own ideas and contributions in course redesign. This empowerment approach has long lasting impact on the high school students and their ability to advocate for themselves and their communities.
When I volunteered as a service-learner in Saint Anselm College's Access Academy as a first semester freshman I quickly recognized the injustices faced by immigrant, refugee, and underrepresented high school students in the Manchester. I became passionate about helping Access students attain new knowledge and skills, and earn high school credits that would help them graduate high school and pursue their dreams.
Once hired as a coordinator for Access Academy Humanities, I realized that the curriculum could be better tailored to student needs. Access students described multiple educational barriers, but they lacked skills to advocate for their rights. With this student need brought forth, we developed a unique curriculum, still rooted in humanities but focused on human rights. The new program creates a safe environment for students to learn about and discuss topics such as the US Bill of Rights, LGBTQ+ rights, Labor Rights and the Civil Rights Movement. The topics also bring in voices from the community involved in this work.
I hope that my on-going engagement in Access Academy will empower more students to better understand and advocate for their rights and the rights of others, and encourage Access Academy to better incorporate student voice into the program.