Youth Leadership Institute = Success!

Two weeks ago, current fellow Erika Lowe and I took a group of seven students from Burlington and Winooski High Schools to the first annual Youth Leadership Institute in Manchester, New Hampshire.  The institute was put on by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and included students and teachers from schools all over New England.  The purpose of this institute was to learn about and practice the Participatory Action Research (PAR) model, where students define a problem and research, work together, and innovate to fix or improve it.  The conference lasted for 24 jam-packed hours of collaboration, brainstorming, and goal setting and our students rose to the occasion.

Here are some of the highlights of the conference, written by the students and teachers who experienced it…

“It was interesting seeing how many youth want voice and say in their community and makes me feel like I’m not doing this myself.”  Jacques

“It was great to have students doing all of the talking, instead of teachers.”  Kristen

“We also had to interview and get interviewed by other youth about their and our expert areas. This interview was all youth led. From the interviews I learned a lot. The things that I mostly got from the interviews was how dedicated youth are about change, and that a group of youth could over power a group of adults.”  Jacques

“The youth leadership conference put on by Nellie Mae was an incredibly rewarding and enlightening experience. I found myself opened up to a world of ideas that hadn’t even crossed my mind yet. Being and learning with my peers as opposed to adults really helped me take ownership and explore further the things I wanted to learn”  Lily

“Everyone was really interested in PAR, which was similar to the iLab which made it closer to home.  People had a lot in common with me, but also differed, so it was nice meeting all sorts of people.  It definteley should be an annual event.”  Rainbow

“The independence of the institute was the best part.  We felt trusted in the hotel by ourselves, and everyone did a great job doing their own thing, having fun, and hanging out.  It’s nice being trusted.”   Reeve

“It was cool to see different people getting together and working on stuff from all around the area.  They made it fun, and I thought it was going to be boring, but the conference was actually super fun and interesting.   It would have been cool if the work was spread out over a longer period of time.  Maybe start on a Thursday, or have a whole weekend to work on it, because we felt like we were just getting started!”   Victoria

“I wish it was longer because it was only 24 hours and we couldn’t get as deep into the stuff as we wanted to.”   Kristen

“I also learned that our school and our community here in Burlington and Winooski aren’t alone when it comes down to transforming our learning culture, and we might not have the solution to this, but we certainly and surely have the resources. After attending this conference I will bring back a different culture of learning to my community. For example I will try to enforce things like the year end studies to be part of our school system for the whole school year, because i found other schools doing the same type of learning, and it worked out well for them.”  Jacques

“The biggest take away for me was realizing that youth leadership no longer means students simply serve as event planners for school dances or fundraisers. There are students all over New England empowering other youth to use tools like PAR to change school policies and make systemic change. Adults in education need to continue to find ways to give our students time, space and resources to have their voices heard. We need build partnerships with our students where they can be part of the change process.”   Ms. Lowe

“I enjoyed meeting kids from other schools and hearing what they had to say about leadership and student-centered learning.  They all had some great thoughts.  It was great to talk to other students.  If you are only looking from your scope, you are only seeing your side of things.  It’s cool to hear about what other communities are like and how they are embracing student-centered learning.  The trip was a blast!”  Ennis

“My next step will be to take more active role of transforming schools. I believe if i start creating a greater bond with the administrators and decision makers , that i can persuade them into seeing what I’m looking for.”  Jacques

“I gained insight into my own thoughts and how to go about the process of getting everyone on board, in different ways. I will now attempt to try and get college students on board with what we are doing. I have started asking the college students I know about their learning in school.”  Lily

“I felt like the Youth Leadership Institute was an absolute success.  Our students did a great job throughout the entire conference.  They had strong voices, showed great leadership skills, and were so much fun to travel with.  I would take these students to another conference or school visit any day.”   Mr. Andrews


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