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Guest Posts, Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings, Student Voices

Youth Voices in Afterschool Programs (Guest Post by Greg Williamson)

For many years, I have worked to engage young people in the many decisions that affect them in school and outside of it. I hear  many people in education talk about supporting “youth voice” or student centered education. Yet is education student centered if student are not given a voice in creating it?  I believe “youth voice,” without corresponding actions from adults, or without meaningful opportunities for young people to be part of solutions, is a hollow promise.

Today, I was fortunate to attend a national conference in DC to improve and share the success of Afterschool education/learning.

The theme of the conference, “Closing the Opportunity Gap with Afterschool & Summer Learning” doesn’t fully describe the range of topics covered, from data, to science and art, to improving program quality, to finding and sustainability. Nearly every state has a network of Afterschool programs, and the conference is held by the national network of these state networks. Yet one major voice was missing at the conference, the voice of young people.

While this is a disappointment, it is also an opportunity for me and a number of other educators at the conference to change this for the future and so, if the young people of the Cooperative Catalyst are willing, I would ask you some questions.  I will share your answers with adults who administer these programs and I will report back with my findings.  I am also trying to create active roles for young people who would like to get more involved in the future.

I would love to get your views on Afterschool programs in and out of schools.

What is your general experience in Afterschool?

What activities are engaging?

What could school learn from Afterschool?

What barriers keep youth from participating?

What should adults remember as we work with youth to improve Afterschool programs?

What’s great; what needs improvement?

What questions should I ask the adults on your behalf (besides “where are the young people in this room right now”,?)

Any additional ideas, visions or suggestions are also welcome!


Greg Williamson is the Director of Student Support at the Washington State education agency and long time advocate of youth voice and youth action.



2 thoughts on “Youth Voices in Afterschool Programs (Guest Post by Greg Williamson)

  1. What the teens want, from my experience of listening to them for the past 10 years, is to have their ideas responded to, their voices heard, and actions supported to change their worlds.

    I tend to work toward epic experiences with youth organizers for TEDxYouth events or including them in adult generated international conferences designing youth tracks to have them be included. Ashoka’s Youth Venture completely transformed the teen experience last week at Rotary’s Global Peace Forum in Honolulu. They had nearly 100 teens in 3 workshops in so many days, energetically declare what their talents are, what problems they saw in the world, what mattered to them most and then brainstorm with new kids projects leading to the green path to peace for solutions. It was only last week that the light went on for a fully practical and revolutionary way of actually involving them in the decision steps at WILD10-10th World Wilderness Congress in Salamanca, Spain October 4-10, 2013. So typically these are mostly talking heads with some break out workshops.

    From the Peace Forum came environmental (tidal energy generator, app for nature) social connection (pen pals in Australia between immigrant whites and Native Aboriginals, new labor contracts for immigrant workers in Hong Kong, and C.A.M.P.=Caring About My Planet wilderness camp for adversely affected kids) and education transformation ( connecting academic work to real world projects in local communities for academic credit mentored by local leaders.) From few dozen young people who did not know each other was generated at least a dozen projects.

    I’ve seen students who were failing return to source a financial guide and life coach, take action on many events they had been avoiding for weeks. Felt honored and respected students unlock limitless potential. We simply need to create the conditions for which this transformational pattern can be repeated frequently and fully.

    So here’s my epiphany. What change could be launched in one lunch of intergenerational tables to generate their own in-the-moment responses to talents, problems, what matters, and what can you do to change it right then together?

    Posted by Kat Haber | February 7, 2013, 2:13 am


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