National Youth Leadership Conference (NYLC) Service-Learning Conference 2012

Posted by on May 08, 2012

Attending the National Youth Leadership Conference (NYLC) Service-Learning Conference in Minneapolis this past April was a great reminder that there is a genuine global movement of students, teachers and community partners working hard to create and sustain meaningful service-learning programs and community-based education. NYLC is not only a national but a global conference. I was able to learn new concepts and trends regarding engaging youth as global citizens and local change-makers that are outlined below. I was also reminded that many participants at NYLC have learned from the work that we have done and are currently doing in colleges and K-12 schools in Philadelphia.

My goal in attending the NYLC conference was to learn strategies regarding creating city-wide coalitions and to reconnect with what I know to be true about community partnerships and how they affect teaching and learning. Community partners can often get lost in what one teacher called the “alphabet soup” of mandates and standards that K-12 teachers strive to accommodate on a daily basis. During my time at the NYLC conference, I learned about the importance of teachers as facilitators and guides, funding projects that support service-learning and youth voice, the service-learning related work at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, and hearing from young people who are engaged in making positive changes in their communities through service.

As an organization of community partners it is vital for PHENND to understand how to navigate the day-to-day issues that schools and teachers are currently facing and to back up the teachers and school administrators that continue to reach out to us despite all of the challenges. This particular point was highlighted in a session with Cathryn Berger Kaye entitled “In Youth We Trust,” which provided reinforcement regarding the importance of teachers as facilitators and guides and that the goal of teaching is to not always to have a specific outcome.

In regards to funding projects that support service-learning and youth voice, a panel discussion on how to maintain service-learning in diverse environments in K-12 and higher education featured the Vice President of Education at the National Constitution Center (NCC), Kerry Sautner, who stated that one of the main goals of large museums and institutions such as the NCC should and are supporting public school teachers and students in doing service-learning and civic education.  With this in mind, it is also vital that our local colleges and universities keep fighting to serve Philadelphia students and to better understand the barriers that would hold them back from attending or completing a higher education at any of the many Institute of Higher Education (IHEs) in our city.

Augsburg College in Minneapolis serves as an example of a school that uses and has expanded upon the “anchor institution” model founded by Ira Harkavy and implemented at Penn through the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. Augsburg’s student population is significantly more local than University of Pennsylvania, which give service-learning a new meaning. Augsburg, as a small, private, Lutheran school has historically served immigrant populations in their neighborhood.  They have continued to do so as the populations around their school have changed. Currently 40% of Augsburg’s undergraduates are students of color and 90% of students receive financial aid. Dr. Paul Pribbenow, the current president and chair of Minnesota Campus Compact, promotes service-learning classes for all students. Because of Augsburg’s population, service- learning classes often utilize the native knowledge of students who are from the community. This high population of local–yet very diverse–students is regarded as an asset to the school. In Philadelphia, if universities were to accept a higher percentage of Philadelphia students, or to at least increase the number of students retained from Philadelphia schools we would be able to see more sustainable changes not only in those students but in their communities.

Young people can truly grow into change makers as I learned by running in to Eva Mitchell, a family friend who I remember best at 3 years old and who is the current co-founder of Project s.t.a.r.t., a group founded to discuss critical race issues at her high school. In the same afternoon I was also able to listen to Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate and youth advocate from Iran discuss how standing up for youth is not a choice, it is a fundamental human right. In the United States we don’t often think of our lives in terms of “human rights” and how much freedom we truly have to make our society what we want it to be. This lesson was reinforced through learning about the in New York City Youth Justice Board which pushes service-learning to a new level of engaged advocacy. It can be challenging for people to sustain interest in long-term advocacy projects and but the Youth Justice Board implements a unique model of youth leadership and youth-led issue assessment regarding juvenile justice. I ended my day with fellow Philadelphians from the Urban Technology Project discussing how to use tools like ‘comic life’ in the classroom to reflect on service-learning projects.

Attending NYLC was helpful in clarifying to me what the goals are of our K-16 Partnerships Network. The structure of the School District is changing and partnerships with universities are increasingly important. The goal of the K-16 Partnerships Network is to work together to determine what roles Universities can play in the development of Philadelphia students throughout their education. The K-16 Network covers a huge array of different types of partnerships and projects. There is no one way to partner with schools. However, the K-16 Partnerships Network can stand united by supporting high quality service-learning, creating and sustaining models for partnership and by understanding that we all benefit from organizing together to support young people.

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