How Can Youth Voice Amplify Research? Listening & Leadership Are Key

This post is the 5th publication in a YPAR series, which aims to explain participatory research, youth-led measurement and evaluation approaches, and strategies for youth-adult collaborations in YPAR.

By: Jessica Forrester


  • In this series on Youth Participatory Action Research (or YPAR), we’ve argued that youth engagement at all levels of research design can leverage their expertise and increase the validity of research findings. 
  • There are several ways to increase youth voice in research, including listening, collaboration, and leadership.
  • In this blog, I will describe how I’ve listened to youth in my collaborative research and how I envision youth leadership could amplify my future work.
Source: Canva

Increasing student voice and engagement in the research process has many benefits for youth development. These benefits include creating a network of justice-oriented adults and youth, developing critical thinking skills, and cultivating a sense of empowerment and purpose. Listening, collaboration, and leadership are three approaches to increasing youth voice in research that align with expert suggestions for transforming school decision-making. I will describe how I’ve used these practices below and give strategies on how you can apply these ideas to your work.

Increasing Student Voice Through Listening

Not all research studies are designed to be youth-led, and that’s okay. Sometimes adult researchers can include instances of listening to seek youth perspectives and opinions about our data and work.

Within my doctoral research process, I was the leading developer of culturally responsive mathematics activities for an after-school tutoring program in the North Minneapolis community. Even though I was the primary designer, I felt there were ways to include youth voices and feedback to improve my research. For example, one activity idea included an infographic of the distribution of Black teachers in the United States by region. It was clear from the infographic that the Midwest had drastically fewer Black teachers compared to the South, West, and Northeast. I was hesitant to include this figure because the students attending the program were predominately Black, and my aim of the activities was to create joyful learning experiences for students. Questions I asked myself were:

  • How can students help transform this activity from bleak to joy-centered?
  • How can we work together to change this activity into one focused on students’ identity and community?
  • How can we highlight Black teachers in Minnesota to inspire students and future teachers?

I held a reflection meeting with two 11th grade students participating in the program to gather youth input and feedback. I showed them the infographic, expressed my hesitancy to include it, and asked how they thought we could make this infographic more joyful. They gave several insightful possibilities:

  • Using the chart as an introduction to the lack of Black teachers locally and nationally,
  • Creating a survey for Black teachers to know more about their experiences, and
  • Designing a call to action for more teachers of color.

The revised activity would still allow students to mathematically explore the data while critiquing Black teachers’ working conditions and suggesting recommendations for change. We left that conversation feeling hopeful that a somewhat depressing activity could transform into a multi-dimensional learning moment for students.

Moving from Listening to Leadership

Listening is an excellent start to increasing youth engagement but it comes with challenges. For instance, Dana Mitra mentions the possibility of misinterpreting youth voices when students aren’t fully engaged with all steps of the research process. A way to improve youth engagement and move past a limited practice of only listening is to create opportunities for leadership and decision-making. A future direction of my research would incorporate students in the development phase of curriculum writing. At the end of the day, students are the ones engaging with curricular materials and deserve opportunities to give their voice and input. A fully collaborative curriculum with researchers, educators, community members, and students would provide opportunities for youth leadership over their learning.

If you are interested in moving from listening to leadership in your work, here are some tips and questions to ask yourself:

  1. Acknowledge your bias on what partnerships between youth and adults look like. What are my preconceptions of youth-adult collaboration? How can I change my everyday practices to create reciprocal youth-adult relationships? Am I willing to learn from the insider knowledge of youth?
  2. Establish clear goals, roles, and responsibilities at the beginning of the collaboration. Do I know everyone’s competencies, strengths, and talents? Are those strengths aligned with their roles and responsibilities? Am I providing valuable training opportunities to support youth development?
  3. Regularly reflect on your practice. Is there any misalignment between the partnership’s goals and actions? Is anything holding me back from transforming my current youth-adult collaboration? Over the next few months, what can I do to improve our decision-making process, communication, or shared responsibility?

Stay tuned for more from the YPAR series, including tips and strategies for using YPAR in various settings.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Dr. Jessica Forrester is a postdoctoral researcher working directly with Youth-Nex and the Youth Action Lab. Before joining the University of Virginia, Jessica earned a Ph.D. in STEM Education from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biomedical engineering. Her dissertation combined her interest in STEM engagement with justice-oriented practices in education to create mathematics activities for an after-school tutoring program in North Minneapolis. Specifically, qualitative and community-based approaches were utilized to acknowledge community assets and, in turn, value those assets during mathematical learning to influence students’ identity development, skills development, criticality, and joy. Additionally, Jessica explores equity and justice through youth participatory action research and mentoring networks.

Youth Engaged in Research: Strategies for the Collaboration Process

This post is the 4th publication in a YPAR series, which aims to explain participatory research, youth-led measurement and evaluation approaches, and strategies for youth-adult collaborations in YPAR.

By: Shereen El Mallah


  • In this YPAR series, I’ve shared that participatory research is an approach to research, rather than a single research method, that intentionally considers power and equity with respect to both processes and outcomes.
  • Youth have a unique insight into their own needs and lived experiences, and engaging them in the research process can leverage their expertise on how best to support their own learning and development.
  • In this blog, I share specific strategies that facilitated the collaboration process to support the design and application of participatory research in practice.
Source: Dr. Shereen El Mallah

Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) is an approach to conducting research increasingly used by educators, administrators, practitioners and researchers alike. However, there is still a lack of practical knowledge about how participatory research can best be designed and applied in practice.

In a recent publication, I provide examples or starter templates for researchers who are seeking to develop culturally sensitive measures and/or who are inviting youth stakeholders to transition from the passive role of informant to the active role of co-researcher. These are included below but first, I share some of the strategies that supported the youth-adult collaboration in this study.

How To Guide

The collaborative process can be broken down into multiple phases. During the planning phase (i.e., prior to engagement), the research team took the following steps:

  • Planning a “shadow day,” to follow a subgroup of students for three hours as they went about their regularly scheduled school day. This has previously been used as a teacher training and professional development exercise, and in the context of the case study, it held the same purpose of better understanding the realities of students in their daily environment.
  • Toward the same goal, disposable cameras were handed out to 30 randomly selected seventh and eighth grade students. They were asked to take pictures throughout the week of “things that were important to them.” The adult researchers were asked to do the same. All pictures were printed and later put on display in the room where collaborative working sessions took place.

During the partnering phase, the research team took the following steps:

  • The first collaborative working session was dedicated to collectively drafting a “contract” that discussed expectations, identified priorities and articulated the collective goals of the team. This conversation revealed varied outlooks among the youth researchers, from hesitation and apprehension (stemming from poor experiences in the past or a general distrust of adult outsiders) to hope and excitement at the prospect of playing a role in improving the student survey experience.
  • A lot of attention was also directed towards ensuring the statements in the contract were explicit, with very little room for ambiguity. For example, stating a commitment to shared decision-making was followed by a detailed description of the voting process (two-thirds majority for all votes) and a clear rationale provided for the few decisions that would be exempt from the process (e.g., the adult-driven research design decisions that were already underway, the decisions around any disciplinary matters that might emerge, etc.).

During the training phase, the research team took the following steps:

  • Youth researchers were encouraged to coin their own terms for the research concepts. For example, most youth researchers referred to quantitative and qualitative analysis as “numbers” analysis and “word” analysis; and although this may not be a technically accurate, it helped them more quickly distinguish between the two approaches
  • With regard to preparing students to lead cognitive interviews with their peers, the adult researchers employed reciprocal teaching strategies (“I do, we do, you do”): first modeling the interview protocol, then role-playing the interviewee for the youth researchers and eventually creating space for the youth researchers to offer one another feedback as they honed their interviewing skills.

During the learning phase (i.e., data analysis and interpretation), the research team took the following steps:

  • Youth researchers were guided through semi-structured data interpretation activities which included reflecting on surprises between what they expected and what they found in the data, as well as identifying patterns within the sample.

During the sharing phase (i.e., dissemination), the research team took the following steps:

  • The youth researchers created a social media page to highlight some of the key decisions and work products that emerged from each collaborative session.  One member of the team was charged each week with taking candid photographs to include in the updates that were co-authored by the adult and youth researchers on the team.
  • At the end of the data collection and analysis process, the youth researchers prepared four more comprehensive presentations to be delivered at a schoolwide assembly (targeting their peers), a school board meeting (targeting school and district leadership), a staff meeting (targeting their teachers) and a parent-teacher night (targeting families). Adult researchers in attendance took notes during the interactive presentations, documenting any questions or concerns raised by audience members. During the subsequent collaborative working sessions, the research team debriefed on key take-aways from the experience, as well as brainstormed new strategies to refine the dissemination process (e.g., after the first presentation, the decision was made to have handouts available for audience members).

Download Resources

To promote more widespread use of YPAR approaches, five resources were included in the publication and linked below. These resources were written for a general audience to ensure broad applicability and include examples, templates, and tools that may be helpful for those seeking to initiate research involving youth-adult collaborations. Each one was designed with the intention of drawing a more explicit link between the abstract guidelines and the concrete practices that are often associated with the YPAR process. 

A template of a recruitment flyer that can be used to invite students to work with adult researchers on improving school survey experiences.

An example of a project plan that begins with a broad overview of the research process in a youth-adult partnership, followed by a more detailed breakdown of the focus and purpose of each collaborative working session.

A newly developed measure called the “KIVI” used by both youth and adult researchers to examine the clarity, relevance and coverage of items on survey measures.

A training handout explaining the different types of validity used to evaluate surveys in an age-appropriate and relevant way for youth researchers.

A training handout used to help youth researchers obtain richer responses from their peers when conducting interviews.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Dr. Shereen El Mallah is interested in the intersection of applied science and social justice. As a scholar-activist, her work draws heavily on rapid cycle evaluation, participatory approaches, design-based research, and the framework of QuantCrit to address three notable gaps: 1) The gap between what works in research and what works in practice, 2) The gap between valuing what we can measure and measuring what we value, 3) The racial/ethnic and socioeconomic gaps in developmental and educational outcomes that are rooted in longstanding structural and systemic inequities. El Mallah regularly engages in research-practice partnerships intent on interrupting inequitable practices, policies, and research, as well as explores communication and dissemination strategies that facilitate the use of evidence. She is committed to working with and for underrepresented, marginalized, or systematically minoritized groups to leverage both quantitative and qualitative data in challenging dominant narratives.

Pass the Mic Series: Youth Voice & Agency in Schools, How to Empower Youth Voice in Schools

By: Maya R. Johnson


  • Youth are experts on what they need and do not need in schools, so their voice needs to be heard in discussions on changes and innovations.
  • Teachers and administrators play a vital role in empowering youth voices in schools.
  • In this blog as part of the Pass the Mic series, read about the strategies panelists mentioned that schools can implement to empower youth voice from the third session about “Youth Voice and Agency in Schools” during the 8th Youth-Nex conference entitled Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency.
Source: Youth-Nex

“Students are the experts on what they are learning,” says Dr. Graves. Heads nod around the room, with mine being one of them. In education-related decisions, it is common for youth, who will be impacted by these decisions, to be left out of the conversation. A shared sentiment amongst the panelists was that youth voices should be empowered and that these voices should be heard in school spaces where decisions are made. The purpose of this panel was to address the question: How can youth voices be empowered by schools?

How to Empower Youth Inside Schools

School is where youth spend most of their time, meaning that students know what they need and what will work. The following strategies were suggested by panelists on how to empower youth in schools:

  • Principal advisory committee: Students meet with their principal and share suggestions on how to make their school a place they want to attend.
  • Student-community partnerships: Students and community partners are brought together in conversation on areas that need improvement.
  • Challenging projects in the classroom: Students complete individual multi-step projects that target challenges that youth see and allow them to create steps to solve those challenges.
  • Skill-building opportunities: Students have opportunities to practice skills needed to engage in actions and changes.
  • Create intentional spaces: Youth have access to spaces where they can practice self-governance.

How Teachers Can Help

Teachers can help empower youth voices by implementing strategies that avoid regression. Such strategies are building a personal relationship with each individual student, creating an environment of freedom of expression in the classroom, embracing the role of facilitator, and having “be real” moments during which teachers make sure that their students understand and retain the information taught. Through these strategies, not only will regression be avoided, but youth voices will be empowered because students will feel supported by their teachers and have the space necessary to grow confident and comfortable using their voice.

How Administrators Can Help

Administrators can help empower youth voices by making sure that young people feel safe when using their voice. Through consulting youth directly on what the word “safety” means to them and creating spaces where students feel comfortable sharing how they feel and what affects them without judgment, youth will know that their voice is acknowledged by leaders in their school. A key to administrators contributing to the empowerment of youth voice effectively is that they must be open and ready to hear feedback, rather than taking student feedback personally.

My Thoughts

Students know their experiences in schools. They know what innovations and systems work and do not work. They know what they need and do not need.

Students’ voices should and need to be not only heard, but also given genuine space during the school decision making process.

Once schools begin to empower and listen to youth voices, strong leaders will be developed, and schools will be transformed to effectively impact the lives of youth.

Source: Youth-Nex

Stay tuned to this Pass the Mic blog series to learn more about:

  • Health & Well-being, 
  • Politics, Organizing & Civic Engagement, and 
  • Programs that Elevate Youth Voice & Agency.

Missed the earlier posts in this series? Check out:

  1. A Dialogue Among Young People
  2. Social & Justice Systems

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Maya Johnson is a second year at the University of Virginia majoring in Youth & Social Innovation and minoring in Religious Studies. She is a member of the Education Council, member of the leadership team for SEEDS4Change, co-event chair for the Youth & Social Innovation Executive Board, and a volunteer for Virginia Ambassadors.

Why Access to Youth Theatre Matters, Concluding Youth Performing Arts Series

By: Jessica Harris

This blog post is the fourth and final in a Youth Performing Arts Series by teens involved in the performing arts. For more posts, please visit our blog.


  • Empowered Players (EP) is a Fluvanna-based non-profit in VA designed to make a difference in the community through the arts. Their mission is to uplift the human spirit through access to quality arts experiences, youth empowerment, and community service through free & accessible K-12 theatre education and programming. 
  • For the past few months, the Youth Performing Arts Series has highlighted youth involved with EP sharing more about their experiences and perspectives engaging in the performing arts. 
  • In this fourth and final blog post, Jessica Harris, Founder and Artistic Director of EP, shares more tips and strategies for running a rural youth performing arts program, and about how applied development research is embedded into that work.
Source: EP, Midsummer Night’s Dream Cast, Summer 2019.

“The show must go on!” Many of us are probably familiar with this age-old adage.  It’s designed to remind us of the importance of perseverance, determination, and the need for the curtain to rise on a performance no matter the obstacles.

But how does this phrase apply in communities where systems, structures, and ecosystems are designed such that the show – both literally and figuratively – often cannot go on? This is the reality for many rural counties across the country, and my experience growing up where access to afterschool programs – particularly those in the dramatic arts – was few and far between. 

This access gap is felt by many students and families where programs are either too expensive, far away, or inaccessible due to the ability level needed. According to a report by Afterschool Alliance, roughly 4.5 million rural students would be enrolled in an afterschool program if afforded the opportunity; with the majority of parents citing cost and limited access as main barriers to entry.

In efforts to provide students with access to arts while closing the opportunity gap, I founded Fluvanna-based Empowered Players (EP) in 2016. The 501(c)3 organization fosters accessible theatre experiences for students who might otherwise lack access to the arts. Our mission is to uplift the human spirit through access to quality arts experiences, youth empowerment, and community service.

Photo source: EP, Empowered Players Students Rehearse Peter Pan Jr., Spring 2018.

The Power of Theatre

Arts programs are often life changing for students. As we’ve heard from our EP Teen Arts Board (TAB) members in this Youth Performing Arts Series, theatre offers students a variety of skills and benefits aside from the warmth of the spotlight. Here’s some of what our students said that affirmed the findings of researchers and experts from the field:

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) & Positive Youth Development

Youth VoicesWhat Experts Say
Maya shared that, “Without theatre I would be much less assertive and would probably care more about what people think. In theatre you regularly embarrass yourself and do ridiculous things. By doing that in this safe place, it’s easier to do in public.”Researcher Jane Dewey writes: “Theatre is an exploration of human emotion, human behavior and human action…. the process of drama is used not for production, but for exploration.” Students explore roles onstage; examine characters’ thoughts and feelings; try out new skills in improvisation games; and thus, fine-tune their SEL skills. 

Friendships & Confidence

Youth VoicesWhat Experts Say
Gloria said, “Throughout the year my confidence has gone up. For example, I can make friends easier now, and it is easier for me to talk to people that I don’t really know. I have also noticed that I have become more confident in speaking in class in front of classmates and teachers, and that I can express my thoughts and opinions more freely and without worrying too much about what they think.”Sandra Ruppert found that theatre increases students’ “self-confidence, self-control, conflict resolution, collaboration, empathy, and social tolerance” (p. 14) – all of which are essential for increased friendships and confidence.

Creativity, Problem-Solving, & Innovation

Youth VoicesWhat Experts Say
Anna and Kessler believe that theatre “can improve public speaking ability, increase creative thinking skills, and includes people from many different backgrounds and walks of life through the diverse roles available.”In a report on 21st Century Skills, Colleen Dean & colleagues found that theatre and arts programs teach essential skills such as outside-the-box thinking, collaborative skills, and innovation through elements that are required to put on a show.
Source: EP, Owen (one of the youth bloggers) and Jessica Harris working together on a project at Empowered Players rehearsal in 2019.

Tips & Advice for Adults

While EP continues to adapt to our community’s needs and interests, there are a few key lessons learned that may prove useful for others who hope to engage in this type of meaningful work. Whether you are a teacher, a community organizer, a parent, or other person invested in positive youth development, my hope is that these tips and strategies will help you support youth in the performing arts.

  • Focus on the Process: Our mantra is process is the product. Just as no theatre will have a good performance if the creative process was lackluster, the same holds true for organizations working with students. Educators should focus on offering a robust, SEL-centered experience rather than focus on “just putting on a show.” (The Educational Theatre Association has a number of SEL-informed lesson plans for theatre educators for this purpose.) And I encourage parents to recognize how learning and practicing SEL skills in theatre as a process (and not just the end show) can impact successful social functioning in the future.
  • Community & Arts Go Hand-in-Hand: One of the most meaningful parts of Empowered Players is our Teen Arts Board program, where students volunteer in our community using the arts. From holding community-wide talent shows to storytime readings at our local library, our teens find ways to use their creative talents to enhance the community and bring the power of theatre to life. I encourage educators to find similar ways to align learning and embed service into the creative parts of this work. Community organizers should reach out to theatre groups and help build bridges to the arts if they don’t already exist. If there are parents whose teens are involved in theatre, consider encouraging those leaders to find pathways to the community too!
  • Access, Access, Access: Some of the greatest parts about theatre are the infinite touchpoints it provides. Have a student who’s less comfortable onstage? Allow them to run the lights and sound. Know of students who are visual-arts-oriented? Make space on the costume design team for them. Theatre is for everyone whether it is in school-based or in the community!

Additionally, EP’s programs are all free-or-reduced cost. Recognizing that this may not be possible for every community, we encourage folks to be mindful of ways they might be able to keep their program accessible. It’s amazing what can be done with a simple gathering space, upcycled costumes, and a group of passionate students!

And if you are an adult who is fortunate to be able to monetarily support the arts, please consider donating to youth performing arts programs because it’s clear that their results have long lasting effects on the students involved.

Photo source: EP, Gloria & Ruby (two of our youth bloggers) work in the lights and sound booth at the Carysbrook Performing Arts Center, Spring 2023.

Next Steps

I am so heartened by what our students shared about the impact that theatre had on their lives. I encourage all adults and communities to consider bringing the transformative power of theatre to their own contexts, no matter how big or small. The show can go on, and I believe we owe it to all students to give them a chance to shine – both on and off the stage.

If you’d like to stay in touch or learn more about how theatre education can impact your community, you can reach me at To support Empowered Players, visit our website here.

The posts in the Youth Nex Youth Performing Arts Series are submitted by teens who are a part of the Empowered Players Teen Arts Board (TAB). The TAB is designed to create a space for teens to shape the arts landscape of Fluvanna County, VA, volunteer in their community, and co-create arts programming for EP. Each blog will feature topics selected by TAB members, and is designed to uplift their thoughts around the importance of the performing arts.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Jessica Harris is the Founder and Artistic Director of Empowered Players, a 501(c)3 arts education nonprofit in Fluvanna, VA, and Community Research Program Manager at the UVA Equity Center. Through EP, she directs and provides yearlong accessible arts programs for K-12 students, and her TEDx Talk titled “The Transformative Power of Theater in Rural Communities” highlights her work. Jessica holds a Master’s in Applied Development Science – Educational Psychology from the University of Virginia, where she also earned an interdisciplinary B.A in arts nonprofit management & education.

Revisiting 2022: Blogs on Youth Voice, New Research & More

By: Leslie M. Booren


  • 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!
Source: Youth-Nex

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.”

Youth Voice

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!

Latest Research

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:

What to Take into 2023

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.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

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 Power of the Creator Economy in Education: How Educators can Thrive Digitally

By: Harish, WIT teen entrepreneur


  • 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.
Source: Youth-Nex

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. 


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is WITtag_blue.png
Youth-Nex is excited to feature teen entrepreneurs from the non-profit WIT – Whatever It Takes. The posts in the Youth Nex + WIT series are submitted by teen entrepreneurs who are interested in exploring and discussing topics ranging from education inequity, mental health, political issues, and more. The teens choose the topic and the views expressed in their posts are theirs and not connected to WIT or Youth-Nex. 

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

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!

Middle School Redesign: A How To Guide from Educational Stakeholders

By: Ashlee Sjogren, Detajha Woodson & Faith Zabek

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. 
Source: Canva

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.”

Physical Space

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:

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.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

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.

LGBTQ+ Youth Need Your Support

By: Lamont Bryant


  • 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.
Source: Canva

Happy Pride!

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+).

Turning Point

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. [1]

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). [2]

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. [3]

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. 

The Intersectional Pride flag was introduced by Danial Quasar in 2018 to underscore the importance of greater inclusion within the LGBTQ+ community. A black and brown chevron was added to the LGBT Rainbow Pride flag to represent racially marginalized LGBTQ+ community members, and the colors pink, light blue, and white-colored chevrons were borrowed from the Transgender Pride Flag. Source: Canva

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 [4]; however, Black LGBTQ+ students attending majority Black schools were least likely to have a gender and sexuality alliance support group. [5]

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. [6] 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.
  • Keep learning! The GLSEN national network provides resources for students and educators, including research and educational webinars. Also, the LGBT Family Acceptance Project is a great resource for research, training and readings.
  • Race and ethnicity are important to understanding sexual and gender identity. The National Black Justice Coalition provides great resources including a terminology workbook, a gender justice toolkit, and culturally informed dialogue and reports.
  • The Trevor Project LGBTQ+ young people can access free confidential crisis counseling via chat, phone, and text through The Trevor Project.


[1] Freedom for all Americans

[2] Trevor Project: 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

[3] 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 Adolescence30, 418-430.

[4] Trevor Project: 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

[5] 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.

[6] 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.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

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.

Student’s Legacy Art with Historical Representation

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.

Recently, NNPS Youth Development shared art from the walls at one of their High Schools. Shared here is that art in celebration of Youth Art Month

Hallway Artwork

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.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Art Can Be a Force of Change

By: Maya Koehn-Wu

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.

Source: Maya Koehn-Wu

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.

Source: Maya Koehn-Wu

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

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

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.