Self-Advocacy: Why is it so important?

Self-advocacy is skill vital to human survival. Although everyone’s definition may look different, school counselor Alaina Way thinks self-advocacy is, “Speaking up for yourself- interest[s], desires, needs and rights.” As an adult, you are your own advocate, and when students learn this skill varies by the individual. “I see some freshmen who come to McNick already comfortable and skilled in self-advocacy, while others take a few years to develop.  I do tend to notice growth in students’ self-advocacy skills when they get their first job,” Way said. According to The Telegraph, most people get their first job around 16-18 years old, which helps encourage kids to take responsibility for their actions, submerse themselves in the workforce, and overall grow in maturity. 

Director of Curriculum Dan Rosenbaum said he notices a lot of kids becoming comfortable with advocating for themselves between freshman and sophomore year. “I think generally speaking, as a freshman, you’re still trying to figure everything out, and there is some assumption that once you’ve been through this for a year… you know what’s going on now,” Rosenbaum said.

Students can work on self-advocacy even before getting a job, like asking for help when it is needed. “Challenging themselves to ask more questions in class and talking with teachers is a great way to work on self-advocacy… your school counselors are here to help you advocate for yourself – we can talk you through what to say to a teacher if you are unsure of how to approach a situation,” Way said. Although stepping up for yourself may seem scary, once college hits, you’re on your own. Starting with something small like asking for help on a math problem is going to set you down a road to where it will be easier to advocate for yourself in the future.

Rosenbaum shares a similar view on self-advocacy as Way. “At different levels there’s different expectations as to what you can do for yourself,” Rosenbaum said. For example, you can’t expect a 2-year-old to be able to do the same things as a 15-year-old. “In the end, you’re ultimately responsible for yourself. We’re here to help other people, and McNick certainly does a great job of promoting that and pushing that, but first and foremost you have to take care of yourself.” There’s one more part to self-advocacy, however. “If you can’t do something… this is another part that comes with learning self-advocacy: how do you know when to ask for help, and who do you ask for help?” Rosenbaum said.

“There’s no right or wrong way to learn self-advocacy, and there’s never a point where you’re completely there, you’re always working towards it, kind of like with the school motto of ‘working towards full stature in Christ’ you never totally get to the point where you’re completely on your own, but we’re always working towards learning more skills, and some things that can first of all help us, and then in turn the more skills we have can be helpful to other people,” Rosenbaum said. Self-advocacy is all about growing in maturity levels, and high school is a great practice for that.  

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