Looking Back….Looking Forward

This new year provides and opportunity to both look back at our last decade of growth and look forward to the next 10 years. Like many nonprofits, we have been so busy working with schools, that we rarely back away to see the organization as a whole. The recent task of constructing an “Impact Statement” has demanded that we synthesize our statistics over the past 10 years to better tell our story:

  • Nearly 2700 young people have been engaged in year-long youth-adult partnership change work to shape schools that are more inclusive, engaging and healthy.  
  • UP has served 95% of high schools and 44% of our middle schools in all 14 counties in the state.
  • We have provided training and support for 334 year-long initiatives in 113 Vermont schools.
  • 110 teachers have engaged in an UP graduate course to support their roles as partners and change agents.
  • 55% of schools who have hosted UP initiatives have done so for more than one year.
  • 61% of those schools have hosted more than one specific UP initiative.

These statistics spark a cascade of memories for me. There was the first Youth & Adults Transforming Schools Together conference at Goddard College – “the Barn”  filled with hopeful young people with a near tangible desire to make a difference. I remember my worries about being able to meet their expectations and wondering how this journey would unfold. We have had many wise Guides along the way, but no master blueprint to inform our growth.

One UP youth participant shared this reflection:“I was reminded of how much power we

have as individuals to change our own world and the world of others…for the better.”  I have had the privilege of reading many reflection papers of both youth and adults engaged in UP work. They express a similar sentiment. I hope that this seed of agency and civic engagement, and a commitment to the collective good, was planted for the many others who have embraced leadership roles over the years.  I have found that, although the elevation of youth as change agents is the most profound marker of our impact, the adults who partner with these young people are equally changed and enriched by the experience. I certainly have been!

Looking forward, we continually scan the school landscape to identify opportunities where young people can step into leadership roles.  The incorporation of “Transforming School Cultures through Restorative Practices” is an example of this. Lindsey Halman, a new UP staff member, has a depth of knowledge in restorative practices.  Within a month of her arrival she had created the scaffolding to support youth-adult teams from 11 schools around the state (both middle and high school) to be instigators of this culture shift. One of the joys of being a small nonprofit is our flexibility to respond quickly to the needs of schools to move toward more student-centered practices. It is this attribute that makes it difficult to predict our future course with any certainty – but that is as it should be.

We have a solid foundation to ground the next decade.  Getting to Y grows stronger by the year, and an adaptation of this model to other climate surveys is being explored.  Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together, our longest standing program, has ventured into serving two Career and Technical centers, enlarging our scope. We have created a host of ways to help those new to the concept of youth voice and partnership understand the rationale and benchmarks for their efforts and the means to this end. We are frequently invited to consult with individual schools and districts to amplify the roles of students in change. Examples include youth integral to district strategic planning, building buy-in for scholarly habits or assessing the state of proficiency-based learning implementation. Networking with national organizations is also growing.

We look forward to the next decade with confidence and humility.  UP for Learning’s mission and practices are aligned with Vermont’s personalized learning direction and with a national movement towards student-centered practices.  We understand how difficult this paradigm shift can be for all stakeholders. We are ready and capable to help them succeed in that evolution.

 

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