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For The Next Generation: The Back Story

On February 24th, 2024, a dozen students from Prince Edward High School gave voice to seventy of their peers through a Black History Program.

This program grew out of a nine-month long community listening project designed to discover and amplify the gifts and strengths of Prince Edward High School Students.  In this video, Torrie Patterson, Director of We Understand Youth, explains what she learned through that listening project:

Below is a summary of key learnings from the student focused listening project:

The Problem: In the summer of 2023, a team of youth leaders interviewed over 30 students from Prince Edward High School. When asked about the core challenge facing young people, they named low motivation and student apathy as the issue they cared most deeply about.

The Solution: When students were asked how they would address the challenge of low student motivation, the top responses were to shift school culture, provide enrichment and vocational development opportunities, and address mental health largely by helping students feel heard by their peers and the adults in their school. 

The Gifts: When asked what gifts  they had that they would be willing to offer,

 50% of the youth interviewed named creative and cultural gifts: music, writing, art, cooking etc.

What if we let young people lead??

The Opportunity: 

  • Meet young people where they are.  

  • Invite them to become the solution. 

  •  Allow them to use the gifts, talents and abilities.

The Program that Emerged:   In response, We Understand Youth, launched a youth-focused community-engaged learning program to help young people discover their gifts, nurture their creative abilities, and learn to work together as a team as they build their skills as leaders.  Through connections with peers and caring adults, participants have the support they need, and improve their motivation and wellbeing.  By  providing opportunities to use their gifts and talents in their community, participants are developing the skills and connections that help them advance toward their vocational objectives as they strengthen their school and community. 

Project #1: End of School Field Day

This initial youth-led project was a huge success with over 75 students and community members enjoying a day of fun as they celebrated the end of the school year.  The youth are hoping to make this an annual event and work has begun on the 2024 event.

Project #2: Barbara Johns had Something to Say and So do We - Black History Program

In this video, Torrie Patterson shares how the idea for a Black History Program came into being:

The top issue that the students wanted to address was the school culture. At this point we asked Annie Ramsay, a local LPC, who is also a volunteer and organizer with WUY to step in. In preparation for the Black History Program, the students deepened their listening project and conducted 35 additional interviews. 

The first interview question was, ”How do you feel in school? One word or phrase please.”  Here is how their peers responded:

The second interview question was, ”What is something you wish the school saw in you?”

Here is how their peers responded:

Who are We: While this program is being hosted by We Understand Youth, it is important to recognize that it is the youth who have designed and developed and driven this process.  When the youth were asked what name they wanted to give themselves, they chose the name “For the Next Generation.”  They do not believe that they will see significant changes before they graduate, but they do believe if they spark the conversation, perhaps the next generation will benefit the way they are benefiting from Barbara Johns and her peers organizing efforts two generations ago. 

At the end of the program the youth asked this question:

The program was a smashing standing-room-only success!  At the conclusion of the program, the audience was invited to visit with the youth and hear for themselves the hopes and dreams these young people have for their school.  Many took advantage of this opportunity - they felt heard. 

Next Steps:   At the conclusion of the Black History Program, this QR Code was shared.  

For The Next Generation

Barbara Johns had something to say and so do WE

The audience was encouraged to scan the code and invited to share their thoughts and insights with the youth and to sign up for future conversations.  

As Torrie shared in the video’s above, the goal of this program was simple.  It was to start a conversation based on the voices and experiences of youth.

The question for us now is this:  Can we really listen to them? Can we meet them where they are, learn from them and celebrate the courage it took for them to stand on a stage in front of their principal, school board members, family and community members and speak their truth?  Can we see in them the same spirit that we celebrate in Barbara Johns?  Or will the community seek to silence them the way far too many people sought to silence Barbara and her peers?

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing  elements from the program for those who missed this performance.  So stay tuned!  This is just the start of what we hope will become a community-wide effort to help all youth in Prince Edward County thrive by building on our collective strengths.

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