Students have a right to participate in our dialogue. On every subject. At any time. That’s the type of democratic, civic education philosopher John Dewey envisioned.
So, if you are wondering why Stern devoted interview time and a bunch of blogs to the Bank of America (“B of A”) Student Leader’s program, it’s because I fervently believe that we can learn from our students; that is a central part of being a teacher. Education is a partnership, not a staged experience. As part of our partnership, we need to search for opportunities that give students a platform.
Just a little bit of background: The first of these four blogs was an overview of the Student Leaders program, describing the student selection process and the five students in the program: two of the students intern at Working in the Schools (“WITS”) and three at Boys and Girls Club of Chicago. The second blog was about the value of mentorship and opportunities, profiling alumnus Jaureese Gaines who has a resume that rivals prominent leaders.
This blog and its companion blog (posted later today about the Leadership Summit B of A sponsors) should be read together. I know that the blogs are long, but these students are wise, have novel experiences, and have taught me much about the purpose of schooling. So enjoy the companion blogs, even if you review them slowly. Savor the contributions of each student.
My take: The five Student Leaders take a fresh look at current problems and bring commitment and shared vision to the table. And the folks at B of A, Boys and Girls Club of Chicago and WITS, their mentors and supporters, deserve credit for the opportunities given.
Meet the future players:
The interns at Boys and Girls Club of Chicago
Cyrus Goines will soon be off to Western Illinois University. Right now, he is working as a counselor for campers, ages 6-13. Working with the campers has helped Cyrus understand the role of a leader. Cyrus has also seen “ongoing stresses like hunger and that makes him want to help kids in need: [It’s] “not their fault if they can’t eat because their parents lost their jobs…Everybody should have something to eat, especially kids.” Cyrus mentors and supports his student campers, teaching them conflict resolution, plus engaging in fun activities.
How has Cyrus benefitted from working at Boys and Girls Club of Chicago? He’s seen how it works. He wants to run a similar educational and recreational program, providing counseling services and a safe place to play and learn. Cyrus may even become a teacher: ”[Boys and Girls Club of Chicago] opened my eyes to new possibilities. I’m very in to science and math. Maybe I can be a science teacher or a math teacher.”
Nadia Ferrer will be off to Tufts University. She shadowed staff members at Boys and Girls Club of Chicago and provided administrative support when needed. Interested in the brain and cognition, Nadia had much to say about education: “There should not be an excuse that [people] don’t have an education. Education has to be more accessible to people. [Now,] America is in one-size fits all. People learn differently. We need individualized education.” She credits her mother, who worked three jobs but always wore a smile, for giving her needed support and self esteem.
No surprise that Nadia gave emotional support back to the campers. “Working at Boys and Girls Club of Chicago made me aware of what children need. I learned how to help them grow into the person they need to be. Need an ear? Need a hug? This is what they don’t get.” Nadia hopes to start her own design-consulting firm and also create a foundation to provide underserved youth with access to education and outside resources.
Jada Smith will be a senior this year at Simeon Career Academy. At Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, she is a counselor for campers ages, 6-8. Jada introduces her campers to art, dance, nutrition and culture (China was the topic when I came to visit), plus a weekly field trip. Jada wants to help the homeless in the future. Her goal is design a comfortable apartment and let the residents live there for over a year or so or until they get on their feet. “Not a shelter,” she tells me. “That’s too harsh. A home.”
What has she learned about leadership: “In order to be a good leader, you have to relate to the group you are leading. The more you can relate, the better you can understand, and the better the decisions.” Calling it the “most productive summer ever,” Jada gave the following advice to future student leaders: “Don’t be afraid to make your ideas come to life. Talk to people. Network. A lot of people can make it happen.”
Her work at Boys and Girls Club of Chicago has empowered her: “the whole experience makes you smile.”
The interns at Working in the Schools (“WITS”)
Jackson Schultz will be a senior at Jones College Prep. He sees grave inequities in our educational system. In Chicago, “the neighborhoods and resources are different.” He is committed to doing the right thing for others. “If more people like us [enter] politics, then things can become easier—[they’ll be] problem solving and change.” Jackson teaches incoming 3rd and 4th graders, with a wide range of reading skills. Jackson has empathy for struggling readers because he struggled with reading himself.
Caring is central to Jackson’s reform agenda. So are high expectations. Jackson spoke about “a lack of caring, concern” among his peers. That’s one of the reasons why he founded the Jones College Prep Politics Club. He wants his peers to think about the reasons behind their political affiliations. Disappointed with his classmates, Jackson discussed how at his high school, “kids are focused on grades and college. They don’t even care about having friends.”
Jackson works hard to keep his charges focused on school. “I’d like to believe I’m making a difference [at WITS]. I am working with the age where students choose [whether they are] really going to focus on school or [join] gangs or [go] elsewhere.”
Jose Serrano will be off to Stanford. Like Jackson, he talked with pride about his work at WITS. He explained how he is working with a girl who presently can’t read, but was still very interested in discussing the contents of a book. Isn’t that how we start to hook kids? Jose is concerned about finding a way to “tap into young kids. They need to see the smartest kids going to college. I think they need to believe that they can do this, too.”
We spent some time discussing one of my favorite topics, motivation. Jose dealt with the challenge of motivating minority students bluntly. Minority kids don’t trust white teachers. We don’t have a “shared culture.” “White teachers haven’t been through the struggle.” My suggestion: motivate by teaching about relevant problems such as climate change; we are all stakeholders there.
Worth noting: these types of curricula call for teachers with growth mindsets, who do not focus exclusively on teaching to the test and take the time to listen and learn.
The five student leaders have impressive backgrounds and resumes. What distinguishes them from the rest of the student pool is that they care deeply about social reforms and helping others. One has come from homelessness; some of the others, poverty. They are beating the system and take their emerging leadership roles responsibly.
Interested in being a Student Leader next year? Here’s Jackson’s advice: “If you seriously consider yourself passionate about social change, then apply.” Jose agreed and added “don’t forget to show that within your application.”
I’m eager to see what they do next. As Judy Columbus once said, “Not knowing it all is no excuse not to start.”