Teacher creates inclusive platforms for student voices

Making sure that all students have access to information and feel included is a priority for Hillcrest High School teacher Amber Holmes-Turner. When she arrived at the school two years ago, she noticed that the announcements were in English only and not all students were getting the information that they needed. 


Holmes-Turner took it upon herself to change that. She said that at Hillcrest, approximately 75% of the students are either bilingual or newcomers, so she took on an initiative to have both English and Spanish announcements recorded on camera by students and uploaded to a YouTube Channel. 

“We have students who don’t speak English who are cheerleaders, or students who might have not known how to try out for the dance team or soccer team but they’re able to try out now because they have access to the information in Spanish,” Holmes-Turner said. “We have all those students integrated into our campus because they feel they are part of our school and not just by themselves.”


In addition to students recording the announcements in English and Spanish, Holmes-Turner also created a platform on YouTube in Spanish, where students talk about such topics as culture and lifestyle. 


Holmes-Turner says that improvements have been made to the quality of the announcements due to a Dallas Retired Teachers Association grant. She was one of three teachers from the district who was awarded $750 through the grant. She used the money to purchase a Sony vlogging camera—and thanks to the grant and other equipment like microphones that she was able to get through Donors Choose, the students are able to have these platforms. Her school also has green screens and other equipment through Project READ, a library redesign initiative.  It’s the students in her student leadership class that are producing the announcements, she said.


She plays multiple roles at Hillcrest. Besides student leadership, she teaches AP African American studies, African American studies, and IB psychology to juniors and seniors. She also oversees the student council, Black Student Union, National Honor Society, and is involved with the district’s African American Success Initiative. 


Holmes-Turner said the announcements aren’t just about events at the school that day. There’s birthdays, sports, academics, such as the debate team, and a Panther of the Month, which she initiated at Hillcrest. Each month she asks teachers to pick out a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior who they recognize for just being awesome individuals, she said.


“It’s all those moments of celebration and letting students know that we are so much more than basketball and football,” she said. “We have so many things that people don’t know about.”


She said it’s about the student experience. 


“In 10 years, a student might not remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you made them feel,” she said. Turner-Holmes says that in several years down the road, the students will be able to go to that same YouTube channel and see themselves on the announcements from years past. 


She said that when her student council members graduate, their resume will be filled with so many activities and initiatives that they have created, that they are not going to have any problem getting into any college that they apply to. In fact, she says that when it comes to students looking for colleges, they will be able to use the YouTube channel as a tool to demonstrate some of the work they did while in high school.


Through these announcements and opportunities for leadership and celebration at her school, Turner-Holmes is allowing her students to forge their own paths and write their own stories. One of the things that Turner-Holmes wants students to take with them is a philosophy that her mother taught her. 


“The joy about you is that you have the pen to your own story,” she said. “Other people might have a piece of paper, but you have the pen. So, you get to write what your story looks like, and you should never allow someone to do that for you.” 

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