To the Editor:
While your On Assignment article “Leading the Way,” April 20, 2005, highlighted some important work being done by young people around the country, it missed the big picture.
Yes, logistically it can be difficult for teenagers to fit more activities into their busy schedules. But it is often even more difficult for students and adults to effectively work together to change the policies, systems, and structures in their schools and communities. The young people of the Portland, Maine, student board Youthink, and their counterparts in seven other communities around the country who are awarding grants through the Youth Innovation Fund, deserve high praise for overcoming these difficulties.
The overall goal of the fund is to create a system in which all young people have the opportunity to participate in the formal and informal decisionmaking that occurs in their communities. The Academy for Educational Development, which manages the National Service-Learning Partnership, was asked by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to design the Youth Innovation Fund because of the AED’s expertise in creating those connections between young people, adults, and local institutions.
In Portland, the partnership between the youth board of Youthink and the school district leaders, including Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor, is a perfect example of how this work can be done well. Ms. O’Connor’s commitment to the goals of the Youth Innovation Fund has resulted in strong collaboration with students. Not only does a student sit on the school committee, but that student representative is also included in a weekly policy meeting Ms. O’Connor holds with the school committee president.
In addition, she has provided matching funds to a Youthink grantee designing new curricula for the district. Empowering young people to engage in real policy work takes that kind of multifaceted support and commitment, from both youths and adults, to be successful.
The AED and the Youth Innovation Fund are creating systemic change locally, so that all young people can become active participants in their communities. Once there are systems in place to address the opportunities—and the real challenges—of youth engagement, both young people and their adult allies can get down to work.
W.K. Kellogg Youth Innovation Fund
Academy for Educational Development
New York, N.Y.