Every youth-serving organization can learn critical lessons from UP for Learning where Youth Infusion is embedded in its culture and organizational structure.
Usually in the education sector, school administrators and teachers seek input from a handpicked cadre of students. The ideas and grievances expressed are noted but routinely discarded.
This statewide organization may have cracked the code. Executive Director Lindsey Halman is not exaggerating when she emphasizes UP for Learning’s commitment to “Radical Inclusion.” The traditional hierarchy has been replaced – teens and teachers are conspiring together to transform their archaic education system. In the words of a principal and team member:
UP for Learning’s involvement at 95 percent of high schools across Vermont is moving the needle where students are recognized as experts and yes, equals. They sure know the difference!
At my school, no one is asked what we think and when adults ask questions, they seem rhetorical. –Maisie Franke, 10th grade
As the student rep, I never felt belittled by the school board but the structure isn’t there whereas on the UP Board of Directors, I never feel adult dominance. –Galen Reese, 11th grade
The UP Board of Directors is welcoming and super open, even if it is something negative. –Alex Smart, 12th grade
It was only six months into my senior year that I ever spoke with any school decision maker. Now I meet regularly with the School District Leadership Board, the Vermont Equity Practitioners Network, and Rooted Organizing Communities. I SEE WE ARE PEERS. –Evelyn Monje, 12th grade
The organization’s principled practice of “Radical Inclusion” is explicit: “expansively modifying boundaries in a way which creates a difference in the possibilities for engagement, as well as creating spaces that are more accessible, welcoming and inclusive of BIPOC youth and adults.”
UP’s commitment to diversity in a state with a population that is 94 percent white provides additional lessons.
- Recruitment. Reduce barriers (i.e., waive grade and attendance eligibility requirements, offer additional transportation, make extra efforts to collect signed permission forms for youth in foster care or unstable living situations)
- Multi-lingual. Provide translators, recruit and compensate young bilingual co-facilitators, produce fliers in numerous languages, etc.
Another secret that reveals Youth Infusion is how teens and teachers actually take turns at the steering wheel. The foundation is solid enough that its “full partnership” model is flexible. High school senior Alex Smart explains that sometimes it makes more sense for adults to approach school administrators and other times, full-time UP staff step back during student-centered forums.
In addition to the intangible benefits resulting from intergenerational collaboration, here are a few examples of UP for Learning’s impact.
- 2 new questions added to the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey
- 40 youth-adult teams engaged in yearlong Participatory Action Research projects
- 7 monthly virtual racial justice dialogues between students in Vermont and Mississippi
- 1 hr/month the Winooski School Board meeting is devoted entirely to K-12 equity and antiracism work with youth facilitating these sessions
Youth Infusion continues to grow deeper roots in this organization. Student leaders have always been compensated for their work doing community outreach, analyzing survey data, etc. Now high school senior Evelyn Monje is the first part-time employee at UP for Learning. In my interview, it’s fair to say she does not sugarcoat anything so her statement carries extra credibility: “Youth-adult partnerships is the answer. There is so much growth and creativity and adults value this experience.”
A teacher shares how transformative this experience has been.
Watch for a future blog about the groundbreaking intergenerational work in one Vermont school district to actualize 8 Antiracism Demands that, by the way, are translated in Swahili, Nepali and Somali.
Contact us to learn more about this and other organizations that live and breathe Youth Infusion and be the change you want to be!
Photo credit UP for Learning