What Kind of Student Joins a Youth Advisory Council?

by Kim Jenkins, Assistant Director

As a new facilitator of the Youth Advisory Council — I didn’t quite know what to expect. What kind of student would voluntarily give up a Friday night to come out to CESA 1 and talk about their education and what they feel needs to be changed about education in this day and age?What kind of student would want to meet with other students (many of which they don’t know) to talk about transforming our current educational system one classroom at a time? What kind of student will drive themselves (some upwards of 45 minutes) or get parents or friends to get them to and from this meeting that no one is requiring them to go to?

On Friday, October 17th at 5 pm I got my answer. The kids trickled into the meeting, many of them quickly found friends from their own schools and sat down together. A couple of students came in as the only students from their schools and took a seat with potential new friends. One dad came in and exclaimed that there is no way that we had enough pizza to feed this many teenagers before he turned around and left the room (he was wrong!).

The students talked about their current schools and educational experiences — a lot of the kids come from schools that are implementing personalized learning and as a result could talk with enthusiasm about how their educational experience is different from what they used to experience, could articulate how and why it worked for them and were excited to hear that their experience is part of a growing movement in our region to help our schools become more student centered. Some of the students used to be at a school with personalized learning and have since moved along to the next level where they’ve gone back to a legacy model. These students talked about the change in education that they want to see continue to grow — to grow with them as they move through their educational journey. We also had some students that are in a school that still operates in a legacy system and have never really experienced personalized learning. These students have heard about how an educational experience can be different and are interested and excited about this change. Despite their own experience they believe in this idea enough to be a part of this conversation.

Which begs the question — what is the conversation that we are having with these students? What is the point of the Institute’s Youth Advisory Council? The conversation is about transitioning the educational experience — from a legacy system of teaching to students to a personalized system of creating learning experiences with students based on what they need. Personalized learning is about using educational standards, student interests and current academic proficiencies, to work with students to build an educational path and experience that will maximize their growth. Growth as learners, creators, problem solvers, thinkers, teachers, students, collaborators and leaders. These students know that they want this out of their educational experience and some of them can testify to that experience.

In that room, my first evening with this Youth Advisory Council, I saw very clearly that these students have the perspective and experiences to take this work to the next level. To do this, students are each focusing on one of three areas. The three areas include putting together an informational project about personalized learning for a youth audience, building their competence as a tour-guide at their student-centered school site or taking a lead on putting together the 4th Annual Youth Summit. With the Youth Summit just around the bend (February 16th, 2015) the students are in the midst of designing this event — the day will surely be dynamic and thoughtful and will be a great opportunity for youth from all around the region to engage in and add to this conversation. We’re all looking forward to it and hope that the middle and high school aged youth in your district will be able to join us!

Image: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / smarnad