national youth leadership council

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King by Advancing Education Equity

From Emily Uecker, AmeriCorps Promise Fellow, Youth Initiatives

On the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many faculty, staff, and students from Hamline University in St. Paul took time from what would normally be a day off from classes to serve their community. This year, NYLC was happy to host eight participants at our office.

These volunteers participated in a Youth4Education workshop, having awesome conversations around what about the education system gets them fired up and how they think K-12 youth view the system. They were clearly passionate about education equity and discussed some strategies to promote equity, bringing up issues such as the way teachers, students, and districts are affected by standardized testing and the negative impact of zero-tolerance policies.

We discussed the current dropout rates in Minnesota and reasons youth choose to drop out, such as a lack of confidence and determination or a lack of purpose in their school involvement, and how these behaviors often occur long before the student reaches high school. We focused on this as our local issue because this is the focus of the overall Promise Fellow program that sponsors two AmeriCorps members at NYLC each year. The rest of the time was spent making cards for students at the middle school closest to Hamline that included inspirational messages for the students to show that there are adults out there that care and believe in their ability to succeed in school. These cards will be given to students that have been identified as at-risk of dropping out via the Promise Fellow at the school.

Helping to plan and carry out this experience was exciting. A lot of my work surrounds Youth4Education, so it is always great to hear why others are fired up about education equity. As a Promise Fellow, I often hear about Grad Minnesota and early intervention strategies to prevent high school dropout in Minnesota, but this is rarely part of my direct work at NYLC. It was nice to finally bridge these two worlds and coordinate something that addresses the dropout crisis while supporting Youth4Education. What was most exciting about this project is that I got hands-on experience in developing a service-learning project focused on advancing education equity in a local community, and one that was executed in under two hours at that!

Although it might seem small, just think if hundreds of groups did short projects across the country – it would add up to thousands of hours focused on advancing education equity! To me, this is what Youth4Education is all about: Youth standing up and doing what they can to share their voice and take action. Whether the project is short- or long-term, direct service, or advocacy-focused, it all adds up to youth creating more equitable education for all.