Boston High School Students Share Their Voices

by Daniel Smelansky

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“What opportunities or experiences do you wish you had more exposure to in high school?” was the first question posed by Nikki Korn, Principal of Cause Consulting, to a room of Youth Designers at District Hall during Youth Designers Take Action Workshop 2015. When I heard that question, immediately ideas came flooding to my mind. But before I could even think to raise my hand, people were already shouting out ideas while Nikki was rapidly writing them down on the whiteboard wall. Before long, the wall was filled with ideas ranging from bringing in professionals to schools to simply making schools more visually and physically pleasing.

Once the wall was filled, Nikki and fellow Cause Consulting Principal and Managing Director, Mark Feldman, began to narrow down the overarching themes. The 30 Boston Public High School student participants simplified them into four main concepts: Technology in Schools, Food and Nutrition, Connecting Professionals with Schools, and Bridging the Gap between High Schools and Colleges. These four ideas were then assigned to groups of Youth Designers led by members from the Cause Consulting team who facilitated a discussion around who the audience for addressing their challenge should be and the best ways to reach that particular audience.

My group worked on how to bridge the gap between high schools and colleges. The audience we identified was alumni of BPS high schools who are currently juniors and seniors in college. We came up with a concept similar to job shadowing, where a high school student could be paired with a college student who graduated from their high school and/or shared similar interests and goals. The high school student would be given the opportunity to spend time with the college student and experience college from the inside, while also gaining insights and learning about the different pathways that existed once they left high school.

Once all the groups fleshed out their concepts, they each presented the ideas to the rest of the Youth Designers as well as an audience of special guests from City Hall, including Rahn Dorsey, Chief of Education for the City of Boston.

The first group’s focus was on technology in schools, and their concept was to use technology to increase communications between students and teachers. This suggestion ignited a discussion around how to educate adults about education, and how to create an atmosphere where technology is beneficial to students’ education, rather than simply a distraction.

The next group spoke about food in schools and came up with ideas on how to use existing resources to increase its quality. Cooking classes in schools, bringing in professional chefs, and having local business cater to schools were a few of the ideas introduced.

The third group focused on connecting schools and professionals and chose to utilize social media as a way to create discussion around the concept. By creating an online campaign students would be able to gain attention and start a dialogue between local businesses and school administrators as to how they could work together.

Once all the groups had presented, Rahn Dorsey stood up and began running through each group’s concepts and asking them questions. Rarely do high school students ever get the opportunity to have their voices heard and feel like they might actually have some sort of impact, but this was one of those rare moments. Rahn spoke with each group about how the ideas they had could be implemented right away, and eagerly listened to hear what everyone had to say about what changes needed to be made. He created open dialogues around everyone’s concepts, and encouraged anyone in the room to contribute their ideas at any time.

The chance to be heard by someone who has the authority to make real change was an amazing opportunity. The workshop was centered around the City of Boston’s initiative to design the high school of the future, and leaving the workshop, I felt like we had engaged in the discussions and provided the insights and ideas necessary to jump start that process.

*This is the first in a series of blogs by Daniel on his Youth Designers Take Action experience this summer.

Daniel has been in the Youth Design program since 2011 and recently graduated from Boston Latin Academy. This summer Daniel participated in Cause Consulting’s Youth Designers Take Action Workshop and Competition learning how to embed social issues into communications. Daniel will be attending Mass Art this fall. We are thrilled to share his perspective.

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*Youth Design is a leading Boston-based nonprofit organization that empowers talented urban youth to pursue a path to Higher Education and promising equitable careers by engaging the professional design community to mentor, educate, train and employ the next generation. Since 2003, Youth Design has helped to shape the next generation of diverse design professionals through aggressive educational and workforce development initiatives set in the context of design while promoting diversity in the creative economy.

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