Wanna Know How to Fix the Schools? Ask a Student!
Ask Michael DeMattia what he thinks of school, and he’ll tell you. He will also thank you.
That’s because the 17-year-old from
New Canaan, Connecticut, USA,
thinks the student voice is too often
missing from conversations about
school reform and where education
should be headed. And he’s grateful
every time he gets a chance to give
So what would he say if you asked
him? Well, for starters, he’d say that
blocking the internet “communicates
a lack of trust” to students. He thinks
schools should provide access without
bans and filters. “Students aren’t that
different from adults,” he says. “They
don’t want someone looking over their
shoulders. They want to be trusted.”
While many educators might scoff at
the idea that students should be trusted
with an unfiltered internet, Michael has
managed to make some teachers rethink
their positions. He’s spoken at a number
of local, state, and regional conferences.
In January, he presented to a group of
teachers at EduCon in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, USA. EduCon is a confer-
ence geared toward progressive-minded
teachers that focuses on discussing the
future of education.
“Even at EduCon, there were people
who were not sold on technology,” Mi-
chael says. “Even from the most open-
minded teachers, there’s the fear that
something will go wrong.”
In his opinion, that’s a bad attitude.
“You have to fill the pool up and patch
the holes as you go,” he says. “If you
don’t fill the pool up, you won’t get to
see what works and what doesn’t.”
His provocative message stirs even
skeptical educators, he says. “I definitely
provide a different way of thinking,” he
admits. “In Philly, a lot of teachers said
they were surprised that I, as a student,
could provide that point of view. If any-
thing, they came away from the presen-
tation willing to take the point of view
of the students.”
How he came to be a spokesman for
students at education and tech confer-
ences is an interesting story in itself. At
New Canaan High School, Michael is the
director of mobile devices—not the kind
of title usually bestowed upon a student.
In this role, he is responsible for the ac-
quisition, formatting, and maintenance
of the school’s mobile technologies, such
as iPads and iPods. He is also the student
representative for new technology and
approaches on school panels.
“Believe it or not, I don’t quite know
how I got myself into this role,” he says
But Michelle Luhtala, the school’s
library department chair, does. She was
the one who promoted Michael. Basically, Michael began sitting in the library
circulation area to study and got to
know Luhtala. It wasn’t long before she
realized what a resource he was.
“I provided input on things and
was making more and more decisions,”
Once he took over the mobile devices
program, Luhtala realized she shouldn’t
be keeping him all to herself. So she
urged him to speak up to as many
groups as possible.
“Michael really gets what this pro-
gram means to his peers, ” Luhtala says.
If Michael has one piece of advice
for education leaders, it’s this: “You
just have to be willing to listen to
kids. Simply go up to kids and ask
what they think. I promise that if you
demonstrate that, students will take
the ride with you!”
—Diana Fingal is senior editor of L&L.
Student Profiles highlight kids who use technology in creative and authentic ways.