It is hard to do well when adults don’t expect you to. That is a theme ED officials and staff heard repeatedly at a listening session with 370 youth leaders at the National Urban League conference on July 30 at the University of Maryland.
“We meet with all kinds of groups—educators, parents, government officials—to hear their ideas,” explains Alberto Retana, ED’s director of community outreach. “Too often, we don’t listen to the people who may have the most valuable input of all—the youth themselves.”
Retana has begun a “National Youth Listening Tour” to ask youth about the best ways to meet the President’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. That goal aligns with the National Urban League’s (NUL) “I Am Empowered” initiative, which includes a call for all youth to be college-ready by 2025.
At the NUL conference, ED and NUL staff and interns facilitated small-group discussions around three areas: family, community and school. Participants discussed what was working and what needed to change in these areas.
In a discussion on teacher quality, students brought up how the best teachers are not necessarily the youngest or oldest, or the ones with the most experience. The best teachers are those who take the time to get to know their students and understand where they are coming from. Teachers should be responsive to specific situations and learning styles, they said. Teachers should care about their students and strive to teach them in creative, engaging and relevant ways.
Retana will lead additional listening sessions in other cities throughout the U.S. in the coming months. Youth forums have also occurred in Chicago and Philadelphia last week.
Among the questions being asked at the listening sessions is this: What needs to happen in our families, schools, and communities to ensure that more students are prepared for, enrolled in, and complete a post-secondary education?
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