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Student Voice in the Social Studies

A few years ago, NCSS established the Rho Kappa National Social Studies Honor Society, the only national program for high school junior and seniors that recognizes their excellence and achievement in social studies learning. In a short time, over 500 Rho Kappa chapters have been established in 38 U.S. states and 4 countries. If you’d like to learn more about Rho Kappa, check out We invite you to start a chapter in your own school and recognizing student success in our discipline!

I believe that the future of social studies education will be heavily determined by our students. Their achievement and their passion for the social studies will carry our profession forward. Whenever there’s an opportunity see or read about students engaged in a social studies program or project, it’s a very exciting moment for me personally. In the past week alone, I’ve read numerous social media posts about state National History Day and national We the People competitions. Our students are engaged in a lot of social studies. I encourage us all to begin sharing those moments widely. As a starting point, we can begin a conversation about how our students demonstrate readiness for college, career, and civic life through social studies right from the photos and status updates in our news feeds. 

In early March, I had the pleasure of attending the North Carolina Council for the Social Studies’ annual conference in Greensboro. North Carolina is very proud of its students’ engagement in social studies. Rho Kappa students from North Forsyth High School opened the annual luncheon with the Pledge of Allegiance. They stayed through the event to enjoy the keynote speaker, noted National Geographic Explorer Andrés Ruzo, who shared his study of the Boiling River of the Amazon. It was wonderful to see high school students participating in a professional conference for educators. I am sure that the experience showed them some possibilities for their own future, perhaps as an educator: joining professional organizations, meeting and networking with colleagues, and learning from accomplished speakers in the field. It’s inspiring to see educators share their own professional learning with their students.

Earlier this year, I started commenting to various groups and conferences that “student voices” are urgently needed in our shared discussion about the importance and value of social studies education. Our students can teach us how their social studies coursework and experiences prepare them for their lives ahead in the world around them. NCSS released a report in January 2017 that surveyed student experiences in social studies, in partnership with the MyCollegeOptions® College Planning Program. The data from this report continue to remind me how much our students benefit from their social studies programs. I encourage all members to revisit this report and use its data directly in your discussions. NCSS will continue to seek examples of student experiences in the social studies and share them widely with the general public and our networks, to build a solid understanding of the measurable impact that our profession has on student engagement, learning, and achievement every day.

One way we are renewing our commitment to student voice and experience is by dedicating a full-time staff position focused exclusively on our students. NCSS has had a team member assigned to support our Rho Kappa program since its inception. We’ve re-branded the position as a Youth Engagement Program Manager. This exciting opportunity is open to qualified candidates who seek to grow our national recognition program for student excellence in the social studies. Additionally, our new manager will collect evidence of student achievement in social studies by researching and reporting on quality social studies programs from around the country and world—and represent our students’ voices to our partnering organizations. Please explore at our Youth Engagement Program Manager position announcement, and share it widely with your networks. We are excited to welcome a new team member soon who is passionate about growing our students’ voice in the social studies! 

Our students are our ambassadors for the future of social studies.