Being a recent graduate has been difficult in a lot of ways. COVID took away a lot of learning and time, which meant prepping for life out of school got pushed to the back burner so all I could focus on was graduation. I struggled for a long time with many different pathways and feeling unsatisfied with most of them; I decided that college could wait. I wanted to focus on something that’s always been a passion of mine: education. 

I know it sounds ironic to put off education to focus on education. One thing I learned very quickly in my time with UP was that learning and education takes many forms. It isn’t just sitting in a classroom, or doing assignments and homework. It can also be doing, watching, and experiencing new things. As a new Youth Program Specialist (I started officially with UP in December), I’ve learned so much about our educators, our students, and myself. 

For a long time I was convinced that our teachers didn’t want to be here or that they didn’t care about the behind the scenes of our lives. In fact, I thought they often forget we even had a life outside of school. Working with UP has proved me wrong in the best way. I not only know our educators care, I get to see them actively engage and speak up about how much they care. In school it would often feel like our teachers just wanted us to hand in work so they could grade it and we could move onto the next topic of our class. Now I see that they not only care about our learning but also they care about our well being and desire to learn. I’d also like to be clear about UP’s role in this realization. UP didn’t make the teachers care or engage, they simply left a brave space for them to talk about it. 

UP not only left space for our educators to speak up, but the students too. I’ve recently felt very bleak and sad about our world because I’ve felt there’s a lack of compassion and kindness between one another. Now I don’t feel that way. I’ve seen our youth be beyond kind to each other, their community, their school, their teachers, and much more. They have passion for learning and kindness regardless of different views and learning strategies. Seeing youth and adults being able to respectfully listen to each other and speak on their experiences has shown me kindness and compassion is all around us we simply just needed the space for it to grow. UP provides that growing space. These spaces are not perfect and neither are our schools but UP helps ensure that all voices are heard and respected. I’ve watched that respect that our UP staff practices spread through my community and myself. 

As for my own personal growth, I’ve learned to be more patient and understanding. I assume that everyone is coming from a positive place now and before that was near impossible. I felt we were all against each other trying to out speak or smart the other, and now I see we’re all a team. A team of people working toward a common goal – to better education for everyone. I’m happier and more kind after seeing large teams of people brainstorming together in hopes to make education feel more inclusive and accessible to all people. Truly no one has been left out of the conversation. When I was in school I felt that no one wanted to hear from students like me who weren’t gold star students and now, I not only know that people want to hear from us, I get to help figure out how to make sure we’re a part of the conversation.  Everyone has a place in education and that is something I truly believe. Working with UP for Learning allows me to help spread that message along with all the other people that believe it too.


By: Max King