As the holiday season approaches, Youth-Nex is revisiting the 2022 archives for the blog.
We highlight themes from this year’s blog postings, including youth voice, the latest research, and more.
Read more and see what posts you missed from 2022, and what you should take into 2023!
At the core of the work here at Youth-Nex is including and elevating the voices of youth. Dr. Nancy Deutsch, Youth-Nex Director, recently said there are two significant reasons for this. The first is that youth are more than just future adults who will one day be impacted by and engaged in making decisions about the world; they are both impacted and active now.
“It’s not just that youth have a stake in the future impact of the actions we take, they have an immediate stake in them too,” Deutsch said. “That means they should have a say in how we think about social issues and what we do to address them. Beyond that, they are already actively trying to make change. Just look around and you can see how young people are engaged in social change efforts across a range of issues.”
Deutsch also believes that including youth voices yields better results.
“We need their ideas,” Deutsch said. “Young people are better at brainstorming beyond boundaries. They engage in creative problem-solving in a way that can open new possibilities that adults don’t see. Because adolescents are more open to novelty and risk-taking than adults are, this can make them more innovative problem-solvers.”
In 2022, we featured youth writers that were middle schoolers, high schoolers and young adults. They talked about the importance of art, advised educators on how to use social media, highlighted the importance of Black History, and encouraged young people to be active in performing arts. Read more about:
Check out these blogs to link to the youth takeovers on Instagram that accompanied many of these posts!
Youth-Nex takes a translational approach to scholarship and innovation which aims to expand and apply the science of Positive Youth Development. Our work enhances the strengths of youth to support thriving and prevent developmental risk such as violence, physical and mental health issues, substance abuse and school failure.
In 2022, many of our blog posts highlighted new research just published or available to teachers, parents and more educational stakeholders. These researchers explain their new work on:
Although all these blog posts share important perspectives, there are two that we would be remiss not to highlight from 2022. The messages shared by these authors are particularly salient given the on-going current news in the United States for youth as we approach 2023:
For Pride month, Lamont Bryant writes how “LGBTQ+ Youth Need Your Support.” They describe how the U.S. is at a turning point, emphasizing the importance of social support for our LGBTQ+IA2+ communities. Read more about what you can do now for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, and other sexual diverse and gender minoritized individuals (LGBTQ+IA2+).
For Mental Health Awareness month, this video blog addresses “Youth Mental Health & Reshaping Our Culture.” Daniel Fairley II shares tips for what adults can do to support youth mental health right now, after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Author Bio: Leslie M. Booren is the Associate Director for Communications and Operations at Youth-Nex and the Youth-Nex blog editor. In this role, she manages operations, HR, events, communications and marketing for the center. Previously she has worked at the Center for Race and Public Education in the South (CRPES), EdPolicyWorks, and the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) in various roles from research faculty to managing director. She has a strong interest in community and youth development by bridging applied and research-based practices.
The creator economy is a rapidly growing system that democratizes education whilst also making learning more efficient.
Due to online learning in the pandemic, educators are more adept at teaching in the digital age; the next stage for educators is to consider reinventing themselves and their identities to include being a creator as a vital part of their role.
This blog explores how educators should build their brands and leverage platforms that enable them to maximize the impact of their knowledge.
The creator economy is a $100 billion economy involving independent creators that grow and monetize their work through software tools, such as YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, Spotify, Substack, Patreon, and more. Since the barrier of entry to create and distribute content is extremely low, the distribution and accessibility of ideas and skills have grown exponentially. In terms of monetization, creators use a variety of revenue models from ad revenue, brand deals, and affiliate links to courses, paid newsletters, and creator-led brands. This economic system, built by 50 million content creators, community builders, bloggers, influencers, artists, and writers, is one of the fastest-growing segments in business with no signs of slowing down.
The Creator Economy & Education
One of the industries most affected by the rise of the creator economy is the education sector. With tuition rates rising constantly and quality education becoming more accessible through MOOCs (massive open online courses) and other free sources online. Due to this availability of information and resources, higher education enrollment, both online and in-person universities, has been on a decline since 2012. Alongside the declining trend of higher education, the creator economy continues to grow and establish itself as a powerful source of widespread education. This is due to the many benefits that digital content provides, such as lower costs, greater accessibility, greater flexibility, up-to-date content, and more efficient upskilling (continuous learning, used to gain and improve specific skills). As a result, content creators are emerging as the teachers and instructors of the next generation, educating people in fields from fitness to business to culinary skills.
The Rise of Live & Cohort-Based Learning
Although the creator economy has allowed for education to become more democratized and accessible, it does come with a few downsides that are important to understand. The increase in the quantity of content makes execution and implementation more important than ever. This is evident due to traditional online courses, such as MOOCs, having a completion rate of only 3-5%. Additionally, digital learning can also result in a lack of the ability to learn together alongside peers, which creates a need for community. As a result, we’ve seen the edtech space double down on the creator economy through cohort-based learning, which has dramatically risen in popularity over the last few years. Companies such as Maven, Mighty Networks, and Disco allow creators and experts to turn their knowledge into engaging cohort-based courses that allow students to experience hands-on learning with accountability through the presence of community. Beyond this, leaders in the edtech space are also exploring use cases of virtual reality and augmented reality in online STEM classes to further increase engagement and learning outcomes.
How Educators can Leverage the Creator Economy
With the rise of digital education, through the likes of the creator economy and cohort-based learning, we can potentially see certain portions of traditional education become obsolete. As a result, it’s important for educators to evolve and reinvent their practices.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed certain holes in traditional education, which has resulted in the online and hybrid education models existing and rising in popularity even after the peak of the pandemic. With teachers across the world being forced to evolve their curriculum and their skills as a part of this trend, educators are now more adept at teaching in the digital age.
In addition to meeting the demands of virtual learning, teachers should also consider reinventing themselves and their identities to include being a creator as a vital part of their role as an educator. For example:
Graham Weaver, an entrepreneur and six-year lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, created a TikTok account to share his knowledge of economics, personal finance, and life lessons. Through leveraging the power of the creator economy through short-form content, Graham increased his reach exponentially to distribute his knowledge and expertise at rates much faster than he could solely through the classroom.
Brittany Sinitch, a middle school teacher who documents her life as a teacher through vlogs, Q&As, and lesson plans she uses in the classroom. However, Brittany is not alone as many K-12 educators are using the power of social media to create a classroom that goes beyond physical walls.
It is important to understand that education is a dynamic and ever-changing field that requires constant experimentation and iteration. With education only becoming more accessible and democratized, the identity of educators will change as they won’t be limited to their classroom. In the new age, educators will be building their brands and leveraging platforms that allow them to maximize the impact of their knowledge and play the game of distribution.
Author Bio: Hey, I’m Harish 👋. I’m the co-founder & CEO of Guardial and teen entrepreneur at WIT. I’m based in Austin, Texas, and love exploring social entrepreneurship, the creator economy, and marketing/branding. Feel free to reach out @harishkolli_, would love to chat!
In this inaugural post of our Middle School Redesign series, we introduce you to the themes uncovered during our RMS Listening Tour by focusing on descriptions of a dream middle school.
The Remaking Middle School initiative is re-envisioning the middle school years as positive and transformative educational experiences for all young adults, and has been conducting a Listening Tour.
During the Listening Tour, educators, parents, and community members shared what they thought is key to middle school redesign efforts, and these findings have been organized into themes.
Highlighted in this introduction blog are those themes around student voice and collaboration, developmentally supportive curricula, a whole child approach that supports social-emotional development, and the physical environment of the school.
Imagine that you had the opportunity to completely redesign the middle school experience. What would your dream school look like? How would it support the unique needs of early adolescents? We posed this question to over 100 middle school educators, parents, and community partners during our nationwide Remaking Middle School (RMS) Listening Tour. This is what we heard.
Student Voice/Collaboration in Decision Making
Educators and parents alike highlighted the importance of centering middle school redesign work with students’ voices. They discussed how students need to be consulted before any redesign work begins. One administrator explained this, noting:
“We’ve always thought, well, if the kid had the choice whether or not they would come to your classroom … would they? And we saw in the last few years, the answer to that for some kids was, no. They wouldn’t. So, how do we change that? I think we change that …by asking kids. So, that question that you just asked me, I wouldn’t answer it. I would pose that question to 615 adolescents.”
Our data suggests that the voices of adolescents should be the first and the loudest. However, eliciting student voices did not go far enough. Instead we must bring students into the conversation as equal collaborators in decision making. Another administrator exemplified this narrative stating, “the governance of the place needs to be… in such a way that there are student representatives in school boards, students who are on the admin team. … Don’t talk about them, talk with them…”. Taken together, this suggests that design work should both begin and end with students, fostering opportunities for continued collaboration and idea sharing throughout the entire process.
Developmentally Supportive Curriculum
Educators and parents also voiced a desire to redesign the middle school curriculum, opting for curricula that are developmentally responsive to the needs and assets of middle school students. For example, many highlighted developmentally supportive strategies such as fostering failure-safe educational contexts, teaching content with real world applications, emphasizing cross-curricular connections, and assigning experiential / project-based learning activities. Underlying all of these suggestions is a focus on getting students away from the traditional siloed approaches to learning out of context. One youth development worker highlighted their desire for: “more project-based, community-based learning opportunities, where it’s integrative — you know, it’s not a singular subject matter but it’s integrated subjects working… all connected together on topics and exploration.” Strategies of this sort foster more opportunities for students to engage in a curriculum that is both supportive of their developmental needs (e.g., autonomy, socialization, risk taking,) and fosters more opportunities for critical thinking.
SEL/Whole Child Approach
Many of the parents and educators that we spoke with envisioned redesigning middle school so that it prepares students not only to excel academically but also to thrive personally. Their dream middle school cultivates a climate that supports whole-child development and equips students with the social-emotional skills necessary to succeed in school, work, and life. One school administrator described, “I think there’s this aspect of social-emotional learning and creating safety and spaces for, honestly, particularly middle schoolers to just learn how to be little humans.” Stakeholders also spoke of the need for educators to establish meaningful and healthy relationships with each student and to acknowledge their students’ unique strengths. One parent described:
They treat each child as an individual, like, human being, who is celebrated for all their weirdness. There are so many weird, happy, wonderful kids. That’s what middle school should be, right? That to me is the basic difference of the [ideal middle] school and everything kind of builds from there. The teachers are focused on the kids as individuals. They’re helping them interact [and] grow.
Respondents highlighted specific strategies to support social-emotional development (e.g., restorative justice approaches, mental health services, school-home-community partnerships) and emphasized the importance of centering equity in redesign efforts: “there’s got to be a principle of equity and universal human value that can’t be compromised.”
Several participants believe that a traditional classroom layout simply “doesn’t work for middle schoolers because it’s completely counter to the way their bodies are growing.” In many traditional school settings, students are confined to their desks with the exception of transitioning to and from classes, lunch periods, and bathroom breaks, not providing adequate time to socialize with peers or exert energy outside of designated recess and physical education periods. One middle grade administrator stated that he would combat this by creating “a common area that was a place where students can sit, and hang out, and talk” as well as “a big outdoor learning area, an interactive garden.” While several participants focused on the significance of including opportunities for social interaction amongst students and outdoor learning, others spotlighted the importance of making learning spaces visually appealing to students. One middle grade parent shared his ideal classroom“would be bright, definitely bright. I hate the white walls. The kids hate the light walls, the fluorescent lights, and just the plain floors. It would be just brightly colored, because that’s the middle school personality.” Adolescent years are known for being a time of transition and self-discovery. They are anything but boring, “so why are we putting them in boring classrooms?”
Interested in learning more about these ideas? In future Middle School Redesign posts, we will dive deeper into each theme, exploring stakeholders’ perspectives on what is and is not working in middle school education as well as how research aligns with their observations. We are currently discussing these ideas with youth to add their essential perspectives to this work. Are you a middle grades student or know one who might be interested? Have them reach out to us:Youth-Nex@virginia.edu.
The Remaking Middle School initiative is an emerging partnership working to build and steward a new collective effort for young adolescent learning and development. Founding partners include the University of Virginia Youth-Nex Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), the Altria Group, and the New York Life Foundation. We are seeking to ignite conversation, action, and a movement to re-envision and remake the middle school experience in a way that recognizes the strengths of young adolescents and ensures all students thrive and grow from their experiences in the middle grades.
Author Bio: Ashlee Sjogren, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral research associate at Youth-Nex: Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, University of Virginia. Her research is broadly focused on equitable education both in- and out-of-school. Most recently, Dr. Sjogren has investigated student access and engagement in out-of-school contexts. As an educational psychologist, Dr. Sjogren often brings both a social context and motivation lens to understanding questions of equity, access, and motivation.
Author Bio: Detajha Woodson is the Program & Outreach Associate at Youth-Nex: the UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia. Detajha contributes a practitioner lens which stems from her professional experience working in education-focused nonprofits.
Author Bio: Faith Zabek, PhD, NCSP, is a postdoctoral research associate with the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health (VPSMH) and the Remaking Middle School (RMS) project at the University of Virginia. Her research investigates youth wellbeing through a bioecological lens, with a focus on school mental health and school climate. She is interested in exploring the ways in which contexts and interactions impact student and school outcomes as well as how research-practice partnerships can facilitate youth success.
June is Pride month, and as we celebrate our LGBTQ+IA2+ communities, we should also recognize that this current moment is a turning point from a policy perspective.
We need to support LGBTQ+ youth socially and recognize the intersection of youths’ race, sexuality, and gender identity.
In this blog, read more about what you can do next to support LGBTQ+ youth.
Watching gravity-defying drag-queens perform acrobats in 6 ½ inch stilettos or stunning ballroom legends voguing as they battle on the dancefloor are some of my favorite moments during Pride. However, every year I spot a group of LGBTQ+ youth sporting their colorful Pride flags like superhero caps, which stirs unfadable joy and the flutter of hope. They are superheroes for daring to live and be their most authentic selves in their own right.
The fact of the matter is, LGBTQ+ youth don’t need another hero, but they need the support to thrive. Their presence is an essential reminder that Pride is not a parade, but a brave protest to proclaim equity and freedom from the normative limits of gender and sexuality at the intersection of infinite social identities. Every year we celebrate Pride during the month of June as an important reminder of resistance against the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, and other sexual diverse and gender minoritized individuals (LGBTQ+IA2+).
This year, over 250 anti-LGBTQ+ state legislative bills will loom over Pride. More importantly, is the fact that this historic surge of anti-LGBTQ+ bills is made up of 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that adversely affect LGBTQ+ youth. While a quarter of these bills aim to criminalize lifesaving medical care for transgender youth, approximately 75% of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills enable the discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth in schools, particularly transgender youth. 
We stand at a curious junction. The introduction of anti-LGBTQ+ school policies threatens decades of youth advocacy and work within the educational system to increase greater protections for LGBTQ+ youth. As such, schools with LGBTQ+ affirming policies have become a refuge of acceptance and empowerment for many LGBTQ+ youth who may face rejection at home or within their community. By and large, most LGBTQ+ youth identify schools as LGBTQ+ affirming (55%) and gender-affirming (51%) spaces in stark comparison to affirming homes (37% and 32%, respectively). 
The Importance of Social Support for LGBTQ+ Youth
By addressing the systemic oppression of LGBTQ+ youth, schools can become grounds for fostering social support networks and relationships. Research has found that creating affirming environments through Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) school groups and LGBTQ+-focused school policies impede peer bullying and foster higher levels of support from classmates and teachers. 
The association of LGBTQ+ affirming schools with lower rates of attempted suicide is important to preserve, given that 45% of LGBTQ+ considered suicide within the past year.
While student organizations like GSA’s do not guarantee psychological wellbeing, efforts to support and affirm LGBTQ+ youth are interrelated to feeling connected to their school.
Many of the anti-LGBTQ+ efforts in schools will threaten the viable connection LGBTQ+ youth have with their schools. Anti-LGBTQ+ school policies isolate youth by prohibiting transgender youth from competing in student athletics, limiting age-appropriate discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, and denying youth access to school facilities that align with their gender identity. Furthermore, many of the anti-LGBTQ+ youth initiatives also include language that will criminalize the discussion of racism within schools. However, discourse around LGBTQ+ youth and school and social support often neglects meaningful discussion at the intersection of race.
The Importance LGBTQ+ Youth at Their Intersections
Let me spill some real tea that may be obvious to many Black folx in the LGBTQ+ community; It is simply impossible to discuss any LGBTQ+ issue without addressing race. Period. However, the discussion of Black LGBTQ+ youth and young adults often occurs within the context of sexual-transmitted infections, HIV, and PrEP adherence. It is important that we continue to discuss how systemic barriers to health that target sexual and gender minoritized youth disproportionately affect Black LGBTQ+ youth and youth adults. However, I cannot help but wonder how the historical hyper-sexualization of the Black body may exclude Black LGBTQ+ youth and young adults from conversations about social well-being, connectivity, and other forms of positive interpersonal engagement.
Black LGBTQ+ youth face discrimination at the intersection of their race, sexuality, and gender identity both at school and at home. I find the complexity of Black LGBTQ+ social support interesting because seeking support from both inside and outside their families can be both beneficial and potentially harmful. For instance, there is a link between LGBTQ+ affirming schools and reduced attempted suicide ; however, Black LGBTQ+ students attending majority Black schools were least likely to have a gender and sexuality alliance support group. 
In conjunction, Black young adults place great importance in connecting with their family compared to other racial groups; however, Black LGBTQ+ youth continued to experience greater rejection from their family and Black peers.  However, dialogue about the social support from their family of origin and close friends (i.e., chosen family, fictive kin) often assumes that these support systems operate independently.
As systemic changes propose a threat to make schools less affirming spaces, it will be increasingly important to understand how to aid Black families in their efforts to support their Black LGBTQ+ youth. My current research seeks to understand the role of Black LGBTQ+ young adults’ social support networks play as they navigate oppression that targets their racialized sexual and gender identity. Furthermore, I hope to shed more light on the interconnectedness of Black LGBTQ+ young adults’ social support network.
What Can We Do Now?
For most LGBTQ+ youth, the best way for parents and caregivers to demonstrate their support is by accepting and welcoming their LGBTQ+ friends or partner(s).
When LGBTQ+ youth choose a name that better reflects their gender identity, avoid “deadnaming” (the name given at birth).
Pronouns are essential tools that validate LGBTQ+ youth and young adults’ gender identity. When in doubt, use their name and ask about their pronouns.
We all make mistakes. If you misgender a person, it is important to acknowledge your error and apologize without making it about you.
LGBTQ+ youth of color may be more reluctant to report harm or harassment, so be proactive by offering your support while also bolstering their autonomy.
Listen, reflect, and talk respectfully with LGBTQ+ youth about their identity. Supporting LGBTQ+ youth may mean finding help and resources to process your personal feelings, expectations you developed as a parent, prejudices (we all have them), and identifying areas of growth with other adults.
 Day, J. K., Fish, J. N., Grossman, A. H., & Russell, S. T. (2020). Gay‐straight alliances, inclusive policy, and school climate: LGBTQ+ youths’ experiences of social support and bullying. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 30, 418-430.
 Truong, N. L., Zongrone, A. D., & Kosciw, J. G. (2020). Erasure and resilience: The experiences of LGBTQ students of color, Black LGBTQ youth in U.S. schools. New York: GLSEN.
 Hailey, J., Burton, W., & Arscott, J. (2020). We are family: Chosen and created families as a protective factor against racialized trauma and anti-LGBTQ oppression among African American sexual and gender minority youth. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 16(2), 176-191.
Author Bio: Lamont Bryant (they/them) is a community psychology doctoral student at the University of Virginia. Inspired by Black feminist and queer/quare theory, Lamont seeks to understand the development of psychosocial-informed protective practices. Specifically, their research examines Black women, and sexual and gender minorities’ formation and utility of social support, both in-person and online. Lamont is a first-generation student and the recipient of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ Department Diversity Recruitment Award and the Dean’s Doctoral Fellowship. Before attending UVA, they lectured for several years at the University of Baltimore and Towson University’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. At the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, they coordinated specialty health educational assistance and professional development for youth and LGBTQ-serving organizations and providers. Additionally, Lamont mentored a team of Black LGBTQ+ young adults through an empowerment framework and utilized community-based participatory research methodologies and systematic tools to gather community input for targeted interventions created for and with LGBTQ+ youth of color.
Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) in Newport News, VA has a Youth Development Department whose primary goals are promoting student success, student wellness, and creating productive collaborations with stakeholders to implement quality programming that promotes overall wellbeing for all students.
The Youth Development Department operates on the premise that all young people will be successful when offered the right combination of opportunities, supports, and services. NNPS Youth Development is also dedicated to the wellbeing of young people, no matter what circumstances they may face.
Woodside High School, Center for Arts and Communications Magnet program for Newport News Public Schools, fills their halls with legacy art work pieces. Magnet and AP students have the option to leave a legacy piece that will be rotated in the hall galleries. Legacy pieces have historical representation of the students and talents that have come through the school’s magnet program. The hallway artwork is a unique feature to the building and overall culture of the school. Department Art Teachers include Rick Shelton, Bill Kaoudis, Cathy Hilton and Heidi Bogan.
Maya also took over the Youth-Nex and Equity Center Instagram accounts to talk more about this blog and her experiences with the Sound Justice Lab.
Maya is a second year undergraduate majoring in Urban and Environmental Planning with a minor in Dance.
In celebration of Youth Art Month, Maya shares more about how she was encouraged to be creative and engaged with her community during her teen years.
Now she is bridging art and social justice issues as she continues using her creativity to change the world.
I consider myself an artist across multiple mediums. I draw, I paint, I dance, and more.
I began making art when I was young. In high school, I developed my own style, where my artwork depicted gestural figures in motion, dancing in a time-space continuum of energy. Creating and making such pieces became a way for me to create action in a space of stillness. It was a way in which to communicate the complexity and chaotic dimension of movement within a controversial space, within everyday life, within a dance piece.
My dancing simultaneously – whether it was within the studio or at community events (where our dance company would put on productions that told Latin folktales in order to share and teach about Latin Culture), became an extension of my art; bringing a shared energy of pastels and color to moving about on a stage. Dancing Flamenco became a passion; where stomping to a rhythm also was a way to tell a story through movement and not words.
Why Be Creative
Art for me has always been about creating a space for self expression where words often can’t, which is true for many young people. My high school teacher always said, “it is important to create something everyday.” I have since taken those words to heart.
Whether I am sewing, cooking, dancing, painting, drawing, or creating graphics for internships, I have always taken it upon myself to create daily.
I think adults should encourage youth to find creative outlets, to explore different avenues for expression, and foster the development of young artists to be creative.
In a world of standardized testing and schooling, there is often little room for subjective creativity and emotional intelligence. Creativity fosters skills that move people, skills that bridge people together, skills that foster empathy and emotion. It is this power to foster emotion and share common humanistic values that makes art so powerful.
Being an Active Community Member
Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to give back to my community. The Latin Ballet, the studio I danced at, was centered around bringing in the community. After each production we would bring the audience on stage with us to come learn some steps of Bachata, Salsa, or Flamenco.
This helped me connect with kids younger than me, but also share my talents to inspire the next generation of youth artists.
I became passionate about being an even more active member of my community. I worked as a kayaking instructor on the river, where I grew to understand the importance of conservation. I became an activist on fighting to mitigate issues surrounding Climate Change and became empowered by the power of Greta Thunberg’s voice shouting:
Youth CAN make a difference.
Within Richmond, VA I then began interning at a project directed towards studying urban heat islands, where I learned that impoverished neighborhoods and certain streets of Richmond were often 10+ degrees hotter than other parts of the city due to limited tree coverage. From that experience I learned that green space, poverty, equity, and resource access are all interconnected.
I became emboldened to be a voice and advocate for equitable change.
Bridging Art & Social Justice
It wasn’t until I learned that art and equity development can be connected that my perspective on the world transformed.
I have begun to work in a space where dance, music, and art drive my social justice projects. Today I work as an intern at the Sound Justice Lab, a social justice project affiliated with the UVA Equity Center and centered around amplifying voices of gender discrimination. I create graphics, flyers, website material, and visual content that incorporates my artistic passion to present expressive visuals that are measurable and meaningful.
I also work on a project called Project Drumline, where we teach kids rhythm with bucket drumming, music, and dance through City of Promise.
On my journey to become an active and artistic citizen, I have learned that art brings in a level of emotion and depth that sparks conversations amongst people, and conversations are the key to beginning to enact change. I have learned of the power of expression behind a piece of art. I have learned that being creative is a way for me to fight for change and to bring profound meaning to my causes.
Youth are looking for a place to express themselves, to find their own voices.
We want to be a force of change, and sometimes all it takes is putting some color on a piece of paper and other times it’s turning on music and moving your body.
Just remember, art can change the world.
Maya and her sister founded an organization, SistersProjectPeru, who’s ultimate hope is to build a sustainable medical clinic in rural Huacahuasi Peru in the hopes of increasing healthcare accessibility and empowering women on a global scale. Maya recently held an auction of her art to raise money for the organization. To learn more, please visit https://www.sistersprojectperu.org/.
Author Bio: Maya Koehn-Wu is a second year undergraduate student at the University of Virginia. Her intersectional identity as a multiracial female inspires her exploration of different cultures and drive to constantly be making global connections and impacts.Through dance, art, and creative social justice work, she seeks to experience the world outside of where she lives. In addition to being a globally minded, assertive, and politically vocal citizen, she is working as an environmental activist seeking to work within the global community to tackle climate change.
During this time, I reviewed and conducted oral history interviews that explored teachers’ ideas and pedagogy inside and outside the classroom during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
In this original blog post, I reviewed an interview with Mrs. Flora Crittenden and reflected on the power of intergenerational activism.
Mrs. Flora Crittenden is a remarkable woman who positively impacted her students and community throughout her lifetime. She worked as an educator, guidance counselor, and politician during the Civil Rights Movement. Her incredibly deep involvement in her community speaks to her determination to facilitate racial justice in every aspect of life. I reviewed an oral history interview from Mrs. Crittenden during my involvement with the Teachers in the Movement Project, and a major theme that arose in the discussion of her career is the importance of support systems. This yielded intergenerational progress that is evident in the lives of Mrs. Crittenden, her family members, and her students.
Role Models & Background
While attending the only school that accepted Black students in her county in Newport News, Huntington High School, Mrs. Crittenden interacted with teachers who maintained high standards for her. This high school was established around 1920 with the intention of providing quality education to African American students, and in Mrs. Crittenden’s experience, it did exactly that. Mrs. Crittenden specifically recalls the impact her high school biology and chemistry teacher, Mr. Hines, had on her. While in his class, she was assigned projects that she found uninteresting. She was determined not to complete her assignments; however, Mr. Hines pushed her to conduct the necessary research. Mrs. Crittenden believes that educators like him were the reason she attended college and excelled academically. Mr. Hines was one of the many resources Huntington High School afforded Mrs. Crittenden, and his impact in her life extended beyond his classroom. Years after she graduated, Mr. Hinesbecame the principal of George Washington Carver High School which is located in Newport News. He alone was responsible for the school’s opening and operations due to the lack of resources provided by the School Board. As a result, he recruited Mrs. Crittenden to help develop the school’s curriculum and hire faculty. Mr. Hines garnered her support prior to the school’s unveiling in 1949. He went to her home, and he said “Mrs. Crittenden, get dressed—we got to go make a school.” This simple statement coupled with his guidance radically affected Mrs. Crittenden’s life. It gave her the opportunity to invest in a school in a way that most teachers are unable to do.
Educating during the Civil Rights Movement
Even though the subject matter Mrs. Crittenden taught (girls’ physical education and occasionally biology) did not easily align with the ideas promoted by the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Crittenden made an effort to remind her students that they were valued, citizens. She wanted them to know that neither their age nor race made them inferior to anyone. Mrs. Crittenden worked predominantly with young women since “physical education classes were separated by gender but not the academic classes.” It was not until 1972 that all classes were required to be coeducational as a result of Title XI. Therefore, the majority of Mrs. Crittenden’s students had to navigate a society that praised whiteness and masculinity. This challenging situation made the affirming messages Mrs. Crittenden taught increasingly necessary. Additionally, she encouraged her students to be an active member of their communities despite social norms. This approach was rooted in her belief that:
Educational institutions have the ability to strengthen both families and nations by producing educated and thoughtful citizens.
Mrs. Crittenden was determined to ingrain these ideals in her students. Her teaching style suggests that activism can occur in any environment. It is not limited to certain subject matter, locations, or age groups. She suggests that “it just so happened that [she] was a teacher” who used her career as a platform to promote Civil Rights. Mrs. Crittenden’s work suggests that activism is rooted in an understanding of the humanity of people.
Life Beyond Teaching
Mrs. Crittenden sought opportunities to enact change in the lives of young people and community members beyond teaching. This led to her decision to become a guidance counselor. This new position allowed her to counsel students in a more personalized manner; she could tailor her approach to individual students rather than classrooms with multiple people. Mrs. Crittenden was invested in the lives of her students. Furthermore, she was able to engage directly with students and parents creating an environment that fostered student success. Thursa Crittenden, Mrs. Crittenden’s daughter, recalled an experience in which a student received a scholarship to an excellent university, but he did not want to attend that institution. Mrs. Flora Crittenden knew the school would afford him numerous opportunities, so she traveled to the students’ homes to speak to his parents and compel him to accept the university’s offer. He ultimately decided to attend the university, and he attributes his success to Mrs. Crittenden’s persistence. This situation highlights Mrs. Crittenden’s deep desire to support her students.
Read more in the original blog post on how Mrs. Crittenden’s family shaped her view of education and ultimately led to her deep appreciation of teaching, her educational background, her life after retiring from teaching which include becoming a representative for the Virginia House of Delegates, and references.
Author Bio: Celina Adams recently received a Bachelors of Science in Education in May 2021 from the University of Virginia. She double majored in Youth in Social Innovations and American Studies. She currently works on the Counseling and Equity team at ReadyKids, a local nonprofit that provides educational, developmental, and counseling support to children and families. This position embodies Celina’s interests in racial justice, culture, and mental health. She hopes to continue her studies in order to learn how to highlight the stories of marginalized people and promote positive racial identity development.
Mentoring programs have long valued academic-related goals for their services, where many target academic enrichment or emphasize college access and educational attainment as outcomes.
To understand this connection better, I co-authored a report that examines research addressing the potential influence of mentoring for youth on their educational attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors (or EABBs).
In this blog, I highlight some of the conclusions from this report and share practice recommendations that focus on actions that mentors or program staff could take to support development of positive EABBs, including supporting growth mindsets, persistence skills, and more.
School-based mentoring programs match adult volunteers with K-12 students so that students have access to another supportive adult in their life. The rationale is that positive youth-adult relationships (e.g., relationships students develop with teachers, coaches etc.) are important for helping youth be successful in school. So, mentoring programs that match students with volunteer will have the same effect, right?
In this review, we found that mentoring programs that use volunteers and match them with students tended to help students feel more connected in school, increased their engagement, and promoted positive attitudes about school.
However, we also found that, on average, these positive effects tended to be small and variable (some students had better outcomes with a mentor compared to others).
Although we do not know all the reasons that explain the variability, we did find that some studies suggested that the school and community environment might influence the effectiveness of mentors. For example, historically marginalized youth who experience racism and discrimination in school might benefit from mentors who acknowledge the reality of their experience in school.
Implications for Practice
My colleague Michael Garringer, Director of Research and Evaluation for MENTOR, provided implications for mentors and mentoring programs to promote positive EABBs in mentees. Based on the review, he concluded that programs should consider the following principles:
Make sure you understand the root causes of negativeEABBs – There are lots of reasons why youth might have difficulty engaging in school and mentors may be able to address only some of these. In some cases, mentors and mentoring programs may need to address systemic factors contributing to negative EABBs.
Recruit (or train) the right mentors to address EABBs – Training is needed to teach mentors how to best respond to, and address, the various reasons youth might be more or less engaged in school.
Consider mentoring models that emphasize youth voice and engagement – Youth participating in mentoring often know more than we (adults) give them credit. Asking youth directly may be one successful approach.
Draw from evidence-based intervention when possible – There are some formal mentoring curricula shown to promote student success in school. Some mentoring programs may wish to integrate these into their current services.
Train mentors on goal-setting strategies and the art of giving back – Mentors and mentees who jointly set goals and track progress toward those goals is one specific skill that tends to be associated with greater improvement in student engagement; mentoring programs may wish to emphasize these skills in program-provided training.
Reinforce positive EABBs through parental engagement – Parent and families are another important support mentors can use to understand and facilitate student engagement in school.
Author Bio: Dr. Michael Lyons is an Assistant Professor of Education and faculty affiliate at Youth-Nex. He is interested in the social-emotional development of middle and high school students in a positive psychological and traditional mental health framework. Specifically, his research reflects an interest in understanding the mechanisms and practices in a school setting that promote student well-being and school-relevant outcomes (e.g., grades and behavior) through an ecological model. Dr. Lyons is especially interested in school-based mentoring programs as one approach for promoting student well-being and enhancing academic outcomes. He also co-directs the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health which aims to support the provision of school mental health services in Virginia.
Question: What would you say is the main takeaway from your article?
Rivens: I would say the main takeaway is about non-parental adult relatives and how intentional they are about making space for youth in their lives to disclose. Not only making space, but also staying engaged throughout the disclosure process. The paper describes how these adults encouraged youth to share by creating a positive atmosphere, being really supportive when youth were disclosing, and then, afterwards, taking steps to honor youth disclosing by validating them, giving them advice, and advocating for them. That’s the biggest takeaway—adult relatives play an active role in the process.
Question: You talk about reciprocity and how people may be more willing to share their thoughts and feelings with others who also reveal personal information about themselves. Is this the case in relationships between youths and trusted non-parental adults as well, or is this something that occurs more so between youths and their peers?
Rivens: Yes! In our study, both youth and non-parental adult relatives talked about times when the adults self-disclosed to the adolescent and participated in reciprocal sharing. This was really interesting to us, because adult disclosures were typically age-appropriate and relevant to what youth were sharing. When asked, relatives also talked about being really intentional about making sure that what they shared had the maximum positive impact on youth. They weren’t overburdening the youth by asking them for emotional support or looking to them for advice. It was more along the lines of: “You brought up a topic, so here’s a time that I’ve experienced it growing up” or “Here’s how I’m experiencing it right now as an adult”. It really speaks to what we believe—and research suggests—is one of the key reasons why having non-parental adults in youths’ lives is so helpful. It’s because they can pull on that lived experience and wisdom and can also share how they currently navigate situations. These adult relatives do that not by minimizing what kids are going through, but by emphasizing how this might be something that happens throughout life.
Question: The findings from this study are also incredibly powerful when put into the context of prior research, which, as you mentioned, suggests Black youths’ relationships with natural mentors may be protective of psychological distress associated with racial discrimination. Do you think that youths who lack such relationships face the risk of greater vulnerability to racial discrimination?
Rivens: Previous research suggests adults can be really helpful when youth are experiencing all types of marginalization. We’re focusing on racial discrimination and the effects of racism in this study, but these relationships could be really helpful for other marginalized groups such as LGBTQ youth who might be experiencing rejection or difficulties with their parents. Having a family member or another adult outside act as a buffer against these negative effects from interpersonal issues as well as the more systemic ones. To answer your question more specifically: yes, we know that these supportive relationships have buffering effects against the impact of racism, and we know that youth who experience racism-related stressors in our world and don’t have supportive connections that they can turn to process the event, get support, and to be reminded how important and valued they are, are more likely to feel isolated. While supportive relationships are so important and a rich resource, though, the cumulative adverse impacts of things like racism and other structural inequalities aren’t really offset by having these supportive relationships—that’s not going to solve it all. Even the most supported Black child is at risk for some adverse outcomes based on these issues, so, regardless of their mentor status and whether or not they have these relationships, youth are going to benefit from the dismantling of racism and other inequitable systems.
Author Bio: Ariana Rivens (she/her/hers) is a clinical psychology PhD student in the Promoting Healthy Adolescent Development (PHAD) Lab at the University of Virginia. Her clinical and research interests include the mental health of Black youth and emerging adults, supportive intergenerational relationships, and positive institutional climates within higher education
Engaging students in out-of-school spaces is critical to supporting the whole student. Peers, families, program content, and a fun environment all serve as sources of engagement that programs can optimize on.
However, both interpersonal tensions and repetition of content can be reasons that middle school students decide not to engage in afterschool programs.
In this blog, we provide recommendations for afterschool stakeholders as they consider how to encourage youth engagement.
The role of afterschool and summer learning spaces is perhaps even more critical in our mid-/post-pandemic world than ever before. With the rise of online learning, social isolation, and student mental health issues,[i] afterschool spaces serve as a needed additional support to students’ achievement and development.[ii] However, as we re-embark on in-person learning environments, one question stands out: How do we re-engage students, particularly middle school students from historically marginalized communities[iii], in productive afterschool programs?
In a recent report of middle school students’ engagement in afterschool programs, students identified three key sources and two key barriers to engagement[iv]:
Program Content – Variety in program content is initially appealing for students who are interested in trying new activities that are not traditionally offered in schools. While some students feel that their afterschool program “is fun because you have activities you would be interested in that you can do, like gym kind of things;” others focus on how afterschool programs expose them to new activities, skills, and classes that they wouldn’t ordinarily get to explore. In this way, afterschool programs can provide space for students to explore new interests, gain new skills, and continue to invest in their personal identity development.
Friends & Family — Personal relationships with peers and family also serve as an additional source of engagement for many students. While many elementary-aged students engage in afterschool spaces because their parents sign them up, middle school students tend to “vote with their feet.” In this way, some may choose to engage based off of parental encouragement whereas others are highly influenced by their peers’ engagement decisions.
Fun Environment – Finally, afterschool spaces are different from school. There are fewer rules, more opportunities for student choice, and ultimately often more fun than a traditional school-day environment. This is critical for many adolescents who are seeking autonomy in their decision-making and opportunities to spend time with peers. If we are seeking to promote afterschool engagement for our middle school students, we must be meeting them with fun environments comprised of various activity options, freedom to select their activities, and opportunities to learn new skills and meet new people.
Even in the presence of a well-designed and thoughtful afterschool program, there is still the risk of creating unintentional barriers to adolescent engagement. For example, the following two barriers rose to the surface:
Repetition of Content—Although program content is initially appealing to many middle school students, it can run the risk of developing into a barrier if not adequately differentiated. Students voice that afterschool programs are boring when “we just keep doing the same thing.” Thus, we must not only diversify our course offerings in afterschool spaces but also think critically about keeping the day-to-day content and activities fresh for students.
Interpersonal Tensions – Lastly, given the prominence and importance of peers during early adolescence, it is important that educators are keenly aware of peer relationships. Although the afterschool space provides a unique opportunity for continued engagement amongst peers, it is not immune to the school-day tensions such as name-calling, nagging, and other forms of bullying. These interpersonal tensions can unintentionally push students out of the afterschool space.
Further, it is important to note students’ experiences with these sources and barriers of engagement varied based on their reported level of engagement.
For example, students who reported lower levels of engagement more often reported interpersonal tensions as a barrier, highlighting how they may be the group most at risk for alienation in educational contexts.
Given this, educators should think critically about the impact of barriers on students who may appear to be on the margins of the program such as those with sporadic attendance.
Moving forward, afterschool educators, parents, and teens can adopt the following suggestions to promote youth engagement across formal and informal learning contexts.
Ramp up family outreach/engagement efforts to ensure families are adequately informed of program offerings.
Provide tangible spaces for student feedback to be voiced, considered, and implemented in day-to-day programming decisions.
Develop leadership opportunities for students such as 1) serving as peer recruiters; 2) serving on a student leadership council; 3) mentoring younger students; and 4) serving as a Teaching Assistant in a course they have mastered.
Adopt a culturally sustaining discipline approach that seeks to solve the root of interpersonal tensions (i.e., CRPBIS, Restorative Practices).
Adopt leveled approaches to programming which allow youth to continually refine their skills over time.
Provide various class opportunities (through community partnerships) and hold program providers accountable to fresh and engaging lesson plans.
Strategies of this sort address adolescents’ need for autonomy and belonging, and further foster their identity exploration. In doing so, they foster spaces that middle school students genuinely desire to engage and promote continued participation.
Author Bio: Ashlee Sjogren, Ph.D. is a post-doctoral research associate at Youth-Nex: Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, University of Virginia. Her research is broadly focused on equitable education both in- and out-of-school. Most recently, Dr. Sjogren has investigated student access and engagement in out-of-school contexts. As an educational psychologist, Dr. Sjogren often brings both a social context and motivation lens to understanding questions of equity, access, and motivation.