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Extension > Youth Development Insight > June 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Youth, for a change!

Beki-Saito.jpgLast week I had the great pleasure to speak at and learn from a group of 200 youth, youth workers, administrators, funders, policy makers, police officers and researchers in Milwaukee, at a conference called "Youth/Adult Partnerships: Engaging Youth in Community Transformation," organized by the Center for Urban Initiatives & Research. The conference focused on, and modeled youth engagement as a philosophy and strategy for community change.

If you know me, you know that youth engagement is a cornerstone of my work here at the Youth Work Institute. The conference organizers did an incredible job of taking a leap of faith and having youth speak on panels, perform and lead poster sessions about various community issues they had researched. And you could feel the change-a-comin'--oh yes, you provide the opportunity and young people will lead the way.

By the end of the day, folks, young and old, were ready to get organized, to commit to work together to enable youth to lead the way for Milwaukee.

Conference participants talked about creating a youth-adult partnership project in which teams of youth and adults from the various providers and ethnic communities within Milwaukee come together and do a city-wide community mapping project, both as a vehicle to increase youth engagement opportunities and for the individual people and groups to come together as a force for "Youth, for a change!" A great resource about youth as change agents is "Core Principles for Engaging Young People in Community Change", by Pitmann et al.

Milwaukee has long wanted and have attempted to connect program providers so It was a goose-bumpy kind of experience for me to see this group of fairly disparate individuals coming together spurred on by the notion that perhaps what Milwaukee needed to get organized was to stop waiting for the adults to get it together but rather to flip the paradigm from "youth as participants" to "youth as leaders with resources and skills."

Where have you seen youth break through barriers where adults have failed? What are the supports needed and challenges faced when letting go of some control and partnering fully with younger people? Where in your program, organization, neighborhood, life and community are there opportunities to utilize young people's knowledge, skills and wisdom to ensure a wide range of ladders of engagement?

If you have the opportunity, ask young people with whom you work about their views on what it takes to work well with adults, what challenges they've faced and how they've been addressed.

-- Rebecca Saito, senior research associate

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Summer learning loss and the achievement gap

Josey-Landrieu.jpgYou might wonder, 'What does summer have to do with the achievement gap and overall educational disparities?' Well, have you heard of summer learning loss?

Summer learning loss occurs when children and youth are not actively engaged in high-quality learning opportunities between school terms. Poor and minority children experience this disproportionately as they are less likely than their better-resourced peers to have educational opportunities such as summer camp, educational trips or even visits to local museums.

Although summer is a season of relaxation, it is just as important for learning as fall, winter and spring. Even here in Minnesota, where we pride ourselves on our high quality of life, we have one of the largest educational achievement gaps in the country between white and non-white students.

A 2009 research brief by the National Summer Learning Association highlights some of the consequences that summer learning loss has for youth who are often already at a disadvantage:
  • Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency kids-summer-learning.jpgin mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.
  • About two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap between lower and higher income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college.
  • Not only children's minds are affected disproportionately, but their bodies, as well. Most children--particularly children at high risk of obesity -- gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break.
  • Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do.

As Jeff Smink of the National Summer Learning Association wrote last year, "We cannot afford to spend nearly 10 months of every year devoting enormous amounts of intellect, energy and money to promoting student learning and achievement, and then walk away from that investment every summer".

This has got me wondering about ways to address this issue. How can we work to diminish the summer learning loss that most students, especially those in poor and disfranchised communities experience during the summer? What are ways we could implement high quality learning opportunities during the summer for these youth? How can we learn about the needs of parents and communities when it comes to summer programming for their youth?

What should the role of community after-school programs be in eliminating educational disparities? How can they address summer learning loss?

-- Josey Landrieu, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech - any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.
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