All of UP for Learning’s work depends on creating authentic partnerships between youth and adults. Adults bring a wealth of professional expertise to school redesign efforts, a systems-level perspective, and a wide array of skills accrued over time; youth bring their perspectives on the current learning experience, and have the wisdom, creativity, and proven capacity to partner in school remodeling efforts. The integrity of this working partnership is tied to mutual respect, equity in an on-going exchange of ideas and input, and shared responsibility. When young people are challenged to bring forth their best efforts, adults also rise to the occasion. Both parties grow in their understanding and commitment to change, grappling with the complexity of the school transformation process from their diverse perspectives.
With each school partner, UP works to recruit youth interns to work as co-facilitators. So far this year, 45 middle and high school youth have self-selected to work closely with UP faculty to design and lead dialogues, data analyses, and community events. UP compensates all youth for their time and expertise, and works with them to develop goals and reflect on them throughout the year.
One might wonder how youth gain this confidence, experience, and understanding in facilitation. On October 16th, UP Youth Program Specialists Ana Lindert-Boyes, Maisie Franke, and Youth Advisory Council co-chair, Isis Bandele-Asante led a retreat for 18 youth interns from 13 schools looking to build connections with other youth facilitators and adult staff members, to practice using facilitation tools, and to empower others to effect change. The morning session included in-person and virtual conversations with youth from Vermont, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut, and representation from across all of UP’s programs.
The first activities helped the members of the group get to know one another, to increase their understanding of UP as an organization, and to talk more about what it means to be a facilitator. Some quotes from their conversations show the honesty, vulnerability, and openness that permeated the day:
- “Connecting with youth who are genuinely enthusiastic and getting to know a team really well are my favorite parts of facilitating.”
- “Finding out what youth can get done when they are put in the driver’s seat is my favorite part of facilitating.”
- “It is OK to rely on others and not have all the answers all the time is something I learned.”
- “Good comes from getting off track is something I learned.”
- “UP has never judged me based on my appearance when in school, I have not always been respected by the administration.”
- “It is not hard to use your voice to speak up for something you believe in. I can help others use their voice.”
- “I thought change would be faster. It has been a journey of figuring out who is supporting me in all the chaos. I found a place where I had more say.”
Participants also shared questions about how to manage their time when they have other responsibilities and activities, how to continually evolve in the work, and how to step back and make room for others to speak.
After saying goodbye to the online group and eating a pizza lunch, the group went to Montpelier’s Hubbard Park where they continued to make connections with others, talk about the differences between youth-dominated and adult-dominated spaces, and what it might take to align the two.
The theme of the day was connection, and the UP faculty looks forward to collaborating with these youth, and the many more who expressed interest, in building strong partnerships to foster real change. As staff members, we work to uphold our commitment to these goals through our work with youth and adult partners on every team, and with the growing number of interns who will join us for the ongoing series of training retreats throughout the year. We continue to learn and grow from our experience at these retreats, and from the contributions many of these same interns make as members of our Youth Advisory Council and Board of Directors.