How We Work

Providence Student Union Organizational Model

Mission: Building student power to ensure young people a fair say in improving their education.

The Providence Student Union is all about building student power within and across schools so young people can reshape their own education from the ground up.

Students in PSU win education changes by participating in a student union structure that encourages them to take on increasingly more rewarding leadership roles. Providence Student Union currently has chapters at six Providence high schools and is growing every day.

Providence Student Union is a youth-led student union. Elected delegates from each of PSU’s (currently) six chapter schools form the Citywide Leadership Team. Ultimately, the CLT is responsible for leading the Student Union. Its responsibilities include:

  • Choosing, strategizing, and running citywide campaigns like the “More than a Test Score” and “Walk in our Shoes” campaigns
  • Cultivating partnerships with other organizations
  • Monitoring fundraising, budgets, and staffing
  • Setting and monitoring membership growth goals
  • Making all key programming decisions
  • Taking on a public role as leaders of PSU by meeting with elected officials, giving media interviews, and representing PSU at national conferences

Providence Student Union is membership-powered. Any student can become a member by regularly and actively participating in PSU’s meetings, events, and actions. The structure further encourages students to be active members by meeting them “where they are”—in their own schools. In these weekly chapter meetings, students support each other in developing their skills, building up chapter membership, and organizing to improve their school. Regular workshops, trainings, and discussions facilitated by PSU staff, student leaders, and outside allies build up these student members into the next generation of PSU’s student leaders.

Any union is only as strong as its base, or its mobilizable population. Joining the base is a student’s entry-level interaction with the Providence Student Union; it gets them “in the loop”. Once engaged, students commit to staying informed about ongoing campaigns, fun events, and upcoming actions. By building a robust, educated, and engaged base, PSU members and leaders build solidarity among young people across the city, diversify representation and skill sets accessible by the Union, and increase their chances of success in campaigns and actions.

At this time, PSU considers every high school student in Providence a constituent. This means that every high schooler in Providence has a right to participate and have their voice heard in the Providence Student Union, their union. PSU engages as many young people as possible during our actions and events to let them know (a) how PSU’s organizing has improved schools already, and (b) how they can get engaged to continue making progress.

Whether students engage in the union or not, PSU’s campaign decisions affect every high school student in the city. Student organizing at the school level has resulted in salad bars, bathroom repairs, student voice in principal hiring, student-centered block schedules, the opening of a new middle school, and much more. Regardless of the level at which young people choose to engage, the PSU will always push for systemic changes—from increasing bus pass access and banning high-stakes testing to promoting relevant curricula and implementing restorative justice—that affect every student in Providence, and often across all of Rhode Island.

Organizers’ role is to promote student leadership by pushing students to increase their level of engagement with PSU. Organizers also cultivate resources for students and connect student leadership with exciting opportunities. Ultimately, adult staff members seek to provide students with the skills and opportunities to be effective organizers in their own right; PSU’s Summer Organizing Internship is an intensive, months-long program designed to equip students with the skills, consciousness, and confidence to become organizers fully equipped to promote leadership growth at every level of the Union.


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