In an education system marred by inequity, urban schools in the United States are faced with the challenge of helping students from marginalized groups succeed. While many strategies have been tried, most are built on deficit-based models that blame students and teachers for a lack of achievement and ignore the role of power within the school setting.
Building on the body of research on school climate, critical pedagogy, and empowering settings, this study developed a model of student empowerment using a case study of an ethnically diverse urban high school in the midwestern United States. Participant observation, focus groups, and interviews were utilized to identify classroom and school characteristics related to student empowerment.
Students reported equitable teacher–student relationships, integrated student leadership, and shared decision making. Similarly, school staff reported high staff empowerment and sense of community.
The Student Empowerment Model is a useful framework for school improvement, adding “power” to the broader literature on school climate and extending the work on empowering settings to schools.