“There is something fundamentally amiss about building and rebuilding an entire system without consulting at any point those it is designed to serve.”
-Alison Cook Sather, 2009
I have thought continuously about Sather’s quote since the first time I read it, reflecting on what happens in schools, the ripples of change that come from consulting those whom something is designed to serve, and the complete paradigm shift that can result from these ripples of change. Recently, I got to witness a system designed to serve youth consult with them as true partners, and the results left me inspired and in awe.
In late October, a group of 4 youth and 4 adults met for a two-day retreat at Seyon Lodge in Groton State Forest. The goal of this retreat was to design a new Youth Advisory Council (YAC) for UP. The work involved forming a community, in-depth exploration of ourselves as leaders, and intentional planning of the “why and how” that will drive the YAC. Mixed in with these goals was a lot of delicious home-cooked food crafted by the talented staff at Seyon Lodge and an abundance of genuine opportunities to build relationships.
After some community-building activities and the first of many scrumptious meals, our group of eight set off into the dark of night for a walk on the trail surrounding Noyes Pond. As we made our way down the path, there was very little light filtering in through the trees, so we relied on our flashlights to illuminate the way. At one point, Harry stopped us and asked that we take the next leg of our excursion solo. During this time we were supposed to think about our journey as leaders. When we met up again, in total darkness, we talked about how our solo journey intersects with leadership. The words and phrases that passed through the darkness included: trusting, embracing the silence, knowing that not everyone is starting in the same place, vulnerability, and risk-taking. These words and phrases became the foundation of our group as leaders.
The second day involved designing some of the nuts and bolts of the YAC to create a clear understanding of what the YAC will be and a plan for the next steps. Work styles popped up throughout these discussions, and it was evident that some of us are able to drive right into idea building and some of us need to know the why behind the work before sharing ideas. The day ended with a plan for youth to meet in a month for their first YAC meeting, and some intentional planning around the long-term goals and vision for UP’s YAC.
After consulting or in this case, partnering with youth to create a system designed to serve them, I was reminded of a number of things. As adults, we aren’t supposed to have all the answers, and we, as adults, need to learn alongside the youth because the outcomes are greater with multi-generational voices collaborating than they ever could be if a generation wasn’t represented in the work. Youth are incredibly insightful, and it is our job as educators to provide opportunities for them to stretch themselves as learners in unique and new ways. However, while amazing work was done during the retreat, and I am eager to spend time with this group again, the biggest take-away for me was a reminder of how important and precious it is to take a pause from the daily grind to build genuine connections with one another.
Contact: Amie Conger