Media & Black Adolescents Series: Dope’s Complicated Relationship with Racial Stereotypes

By Lee Woods, a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia

This blog post is the third in a Media & Black Adolescents Series by youth analyzing movies that reflect the experiences and identity development of Black adolescents. For more posts, please visit our blog. Special thanks to Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass for her support of this series and the youth in her classes. 


  • Undergraduate students taking a “Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes and Black Adolescent Identity” college course were asked to critique movies and television series, analyzing the media content and applying theory or research.
  • This Media & Black Adolescents Series reflects on a spectrum of experiences for Black adolescents that are grounded in racial and media socialization reflected in the movies. These blogs address racial stereotypes as they relate to contemporary social issues and the identity development experiences of Black youth.
  • For this third of five posts in the series, the youth writer reviews “Dope,” a movie about Malcolm, a high school senior and self-identified “geek.” Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Los Angeles, Malcolm’s dreams to break out and attend Harvard are complicated following a wild party and drug encounter.
Source: YouTube, Open Road Films
Trailer for “Dope”

For parents or educators who may choose to use this movie as a teaching/learning tool, here are some possible discussion questions:

  • How do you think Malcolm’s unique character impacts Black audience members? Is he harmful or helpful? 
  • Is Malcolm’s less stereotypical character enough to counteract the more stereotypical characters in the film?


The film Dope follows the story of a high school senior, Malcolm, and his best friends, as they navigate their way through school bullies and life in the rough parts of Inglewood, California. Malcolm, who is intelligent and charismatic, identifies as a 90s hip-hop geek, plays in a band, and has dreams of attending Harvard. However, his life becomes complicated when he meets Dom, a drug dealer who invites him to his birthday party at a club. Things quickly go south when the party is raided by the police and Dom frantically hides a gun and illegal drugs in Malcolm’s backpack. Chaos ensues when Malcolm discovers this at school, and is aggressively pursued for the drugs by Dom’s rivals.

Escaping the pursuit, Malcolm rushes to make his Harvard interview, only to encounter that his admissions interviewer, AJ, is the original owner of the drugs. Although Malcolm is eager to return them, AJ refuses and informs Malcolm that he must sell them and return the profit. Fearful for their lives and futures, Malcolm and his friends devise a plan to sell the drugs on the black market. Successful with the sales, Malcolm cleverly links the drug money to a Bitcoin account under AJ’s company name, putting AJ in a position where he must accept him into Harvard if he wants to obtain his earnings. The story comes to a close as the friends attend prom and Malcolm receives his Harvard acceptance letter.

Overall, I found Dope to be entertaining and comedic. I thoroughly enjoyed its nontraditional and suspenseful plot line. I found myself captivated as Malcolm’s character developed from an awkward teenager to a more confident young man. Additionally, the seamlessly integrated cultural references helped to drive the plot and add relevant, humorous tones.

Black Stereotypes

Throughout my viewing of the film, I could not help but to make connections to Ronald L. Jackson’s II Scripting the Black Masculine Body: Identity, Discourse, and Racial Politics in Popular Media, concepts of Blackness, and positive and negative Black stereotypes (Jackson, 2006; Allen & Thornton, 1992).

First and foremost, Dope relies heavily on its audience’s schemas surrounding race, while also challenging them. The film presents Malcolm and his friends as non-stereotypical Black characters that do “White people things”, such as playing in a band and getting good grades. Malcolm and his friends craft their identities by rejecting their assumed “Blackness” and adapting more individualistic personas. These untraditional portrayals surely help to defy racial stereotypes, but also present the main characters, specifically Malcolm, as more complex individuals that cannot be easily categorized.

Although Malcolm’s more positive and nontraditional portrayal helps to defy racial expectations, it comes at the cost of the less developed side characters who happen to reinforce negative stereotypes. Characters like Dom and other residents of Inglewood, are criminalized and stereotypically portrayed as violent drug dealers. In accordance with researchers Allen and Thornton’s (1992) ideas about positive and negative stereotypes in Black media images, Malcolm represents a positive depiction of a Black male with “ethical and moral insight”, while Dom and the other drug dealers are much more negative, with “tendencies towards dishonesty, laziness and hedonism” (Allen & Thornton, 1992).

Read more from this critique by downloading this PDF.

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: Lee Woods is a third year student at the University of Virginia, originally from Roanoke, Virginia. She is studying Media Studies and Studio Art. She especially enjoys understanding and analyzing media in relation to social issues such as gender and race. In her free time she finds joy in painting, being in nature, and spending time with her cat.

The Importance of Youth Voice

By Ashley Higgs, a 4th year student at UVA.

  • Providing opportunities for youth to give their perspectives, share ideas and speak their opinions is an important part of development.
  • Youth-Speak is a blog and video resource platform for youth by youth
  • Using videos from Youth-Speak, I helped create a new website for adult researchers, parents, educators and more who want to explore youth voice.

Follow Ashley as she takes over the Youth-Nex Instagram account to share more about her experience in creating the Youth-Speak website! Watch the highlights of her stories saved under ‘Take Overs’ in our profile.

Source: Youth-Speak. This youth discusses what you can do if your family doesn’t agree with you or support you.

As a rising fourth year at UVA majoring in Economics, I was interested in broadening my involvement across campus and gaining more skills as I graduate and enter the job market. Last fall, I started working with Youth-Nex, and one of my first projects was helping reinvigorate and relaunch a blog on youth voice.

What is Youth Voice?

I was not familiar with the term “Youth Voice,” so I began by researching. I found out quickly that it is what it sounds like, or “the perspectives, ideas, experiences, knowledge, and actions of young people.” But, why is youth voice important? The benefit of youth voice goes beyond understanding how youth think and behave from a social, developmental, and psychological perspective.

Allowing youth the platform to speak their own ideas, opinions, and advice to others is transformative in itself.

Giving young people the opportunity to express themselves, and further, respecting their thoughts and ideas, is valuable for individual and social youth development. Youth should be involved in the decisions and discussions that will shape their future.


Youth-Speak is an online video resource blog created by Youth-Nex that spotlights the voices of many young people in the Charlottesville area over the past ten years. This extensive video archive shows middle and high school aged youth speaking on a range of subjects, from school and discipline to relationships and gossip. These videos were developed as a resource for youth and by youth. Whether it be to hear other peers speak about overcoming challenges, learning how to develop confidence, or tell personal stories of inspiration, these videos were developed for youth as a resource to seek advice and support from individuals their own age.

I wanted to discover how these resource rich videos could be used to highlight the youth voice from an adult perspective. I wanted to go beyond the youth lens and apply the adult lens to the youth voice.

In order to do this, I needed to better understand how existing youth voice platforms display their content, target an audience, and elevate actual youth voices. One site, Youth Speaks, offers youth a platform for artistic verbal expression. Specifically, it seeks to make the connection between poetry, spoken word, youth development and civic engagement. Another platform, Youth Voice, serves as a discussion-based blog where youth can write and publish their own ideas, share posts with peers, and engage in online discussions with others. Many resources I found were designed for youth engagement and interaction. But, my challenge would be how to highlight the importance of youth voice to adults.

Adults Using Youth-Speak, a New Resource

After researching existing youth voice sites, I dove into the Youth-Speak videos with the questions of “how would this video be valuable for an adult researcher” and “what topics would parents, teachers, etc. care most about?” With an “adult lens” in mind, I watched every video, taking notes on the content and subjects. Specifically, what I, as a young adult, thought would appeal to an older adult. I found that I empathized with much of the video content, since I was in high school not that long ago.

After watching and streamlining the videos into more condensed categories, I developed a plan on how we could create a new resource or website that highlighted some of these videos for parents, educators and adult researchers. I selected around twenty videos that:

  1. I thought would be valuable from an adult perspective, and
  2. That spoke to me the most from the youth perspective.

With the Youth-Nex team, we decided on four categories with four videos each:

  • School Challenges,
  • Demonstrating Commitment and Determination,
  • Finding Yourself and Identity, and
  • Coming Out.

We also chose two videos, “What Matters Is Being True To Yourself,” and “Persisting and Staying Positive” to highlight at the beginning of the blog. We chose these four categories because we thought the subject matter would be most impactful for an adult to hear from a young person. And further, we believe these videos can demonstrate to an adult why elevating youth voice is important.

Today we are launching this new website for adults that highlight some videos from the Youth-Speak blog. Eight different youth are represented, each with different experiences, stories, and advice. The personal challenges, stories of inspiration, and advice these youth offer have not only benefitted their peers, but will now have the opportunity to benefit adults in their exploration of the youth voice.

After completing this project, I have learned just how important it is to respect someone’s voice, no matter their age. If you are interested in exploring more of the videos, there are hundreds of the original Youth-Speak videos and interviews on Youth-Nex’s Youtube Channel.

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: Ashley Higgs is a fourth year student at the University of Virginia majoring in Economics and minoring in Anthropology. She is from Richmond, Virginia, and will begin her career in Tysons, Virginia after graduation. She has been involved in Best Buddies at UVA throughout college, and also enjoys spending time outside, running, and cooking.

The Unspoken Social Impacts of Virtual Learning

By Emma, a 15-year old WIT Teen, in New York.


  • Zoom classes have changed what “school” looks like to many students across the country, and in ways that go beyond academics.
  • Remote learning has eliminated many of the organic social experiences and opportunities that come with being a high-schooler, including the disappearance of hallway conversations.
  • These challenges also have some benefit, helping many teens to recognize and appreciate the value in everyday interactions.

It’s not breaking news to say that virtual learning has been a challenge for everyone. It’s difficult to sit in front of a computer and stay engaged for hours, the time being filled with busy work and assignments that all blur together.

But in my mind, the real cost of Zoom schooling has been the loss of social connections. High school is the time that we’re supposed to put ourselves out there and have fun and meet people and try new things. Simply being in the school building forces you to have interactions that seem casual, but turn out to be quite valuable.

Classroom friendships, developing personal connections with teachers, and even a quick laugh in the hallway are all aspects of the school day I once took for granted. Now, I miss them all.

And I believe many high schoolers will have a new respect for “in person learning” after experiencing what it’s like to learn remotely and not be able to interact with their peers.

The Loss of “School Friends”

“School friends” are people whom you don’t often talk to when you leave the classroom. Sure, you might follow them on social media or text them if you’re stuck on homework, but you wouldn’t necessarily make plans with them separately because you’re not really that close. They may be someone who was randomly placed in your group for a project, but over time they became someone you could glance at when the teacher said something funny, or that you would gravitate towards if you were told to “partner up.” You might have one or two of these “school friends” in each class, and even though you wouldn’t invite them to your birthday, they still make whatever class you had together that much better.

But, you can’t really share a smile with someone over Zoom; being stuck in a breakout room with someone just isn’t the same as toiling over a project in person. I’ve made hardly any “school friends” this year, and I’ve really missed the connection and bonds that came with those relationships. I didn’t realize the value held in the light friendships that appeared throughout my day.

The Student-Teacher Relationship Shift

Before this year, it was pretty easy to understand a teacher and get a good grasp on each class within the first couple weeks, and you could often feel like the teacher actually understood who you were and the work that you were going to produce as well. And though I feel most teachers have a sense at this point about who their students are, there’s still a certain lingering distance between the students and faculty.

It’s much harder to get to know someone over a screen than when you’re standing face to face. And, when you don’t know someone as well, it’s more challenging to be attentive, to want to learn, and to just be yourself.

It seems to be the consensus amongst students that we’re not as comfortable asking for extra help through one-on-one Zooms as we would be asking to stay after class to go over a question.

But I think the appreciation students have for their instructors will increase once we’re back in the classroom, due to the surprising impact this lack of connection has had.

The Disappearance of Passing Hallway Conversations

While in school, the time between classes were some of the best parts of my day. For students (such as myself) who enjoy being social, catching up with friends, saying hi to others, and just being able to see everyone and recognize the faces around me during the five-minute increments in the halls, passing time was…almost fun. Now, my time between classes consists pretty much of finding the next Zoom link (maybe I’ll get a glass of water or even go for a snack if I’m feeling really crazy). It’s just another factor that makes every day the same as the one before, and most likely a preview for the one coming after. I had never thought about the impact these short interactions had on my day, and now that they’re not there anymore, I really miss those moments.

The Silver Lining

However, it’s not all bad. Not being forced to see people every day means that we have to be proactive if we want to connect with others. I’ve been able to see who’s really important to me in a way that I haven’t before, noticing myself being more intentional with the connections I’m making, and not keeping in contact with some people who I previously thought were some of my good friends. With school no longer forcing us to interact, I’ve found out who I actually want to spend my time and energy with, as opposed to who I hung out with just because they were there.

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: Emma Wasserman is a 15 year old from Chappaqua, New York, attending Horace Greeley High School as a freshman. When not in school, she’s either playing piano, dancing, writing, hanging out with friends, thinking about science, or running her social enterprise “The Sweet Project.

Whose Ideal (and Who’s Ideal)?

By: Chris Chang-Bacon

I did my dissertation on “monolingual ideologies” in education. The idea of “monolingualism” made sense to me at the time (and still does in many cases). I was writing about states that had “English-only education” policies, despite evidence of the many benefits of bilingual education. To me, this was best explained by a deep-seated English-only bias of “monolingualism” (and the racism/nationalism that so often goes along with it).

Source: Chris Chang-Bacon’s personal blog.
A post summarizing my latest article in Teachers College Record.

The more I’ve written about the idea, however, the notion that all of the linguistic discrimination going on in schools was driven by “monolingualism” started to feel incomplete. Don’t get me wrong, there are far too many contexts where overt language oppression still takes place. But in other contexts, it began to feel too simple to explain all of it as a bias toward (English) monolingualism.

The history of U.S. education is often written as a long march toward monolingualism. This is appropriate in most cases: Schools have far too often been places where students were (and are) forbidden to speak languages other than English and overtly taught that learning English was the only avenue toward professional success or proving their knowledge.

However, it turns out that U.S. education has always encouraged multilingualism for some while forbidding it for others. Take renowned polyglots like Ben Franklin who were lauded for their cosmopolitan multilingualism: These figures gained fame at the same time that U.S. policies were attempting to forbid indigenous populations and enslaved people from speaking languages other than English.

So I realized I had to start thinking and writing about this in more complex ways. I’m trying to think less along the lines of “monolingual” and more along the lines of which language practices become “idealized” (and for whom). I bring out these ideas in my recent article for Teachers College Record. I write that,

“In addition to monolingualism as a language ideology, I argue that there is much to gain from a related, but broader framework of idealized language ideologies. Monolingual language ideologies uphold one specific language practice as the norm (e.g., so-called standard English). On the other hand, a framework of idealized language ideologies highlights the malleability of these supposed norms—involving (1) a set of idealized language practices (2) mapped onto an idealized speaker (3) in relation to certain institutional interests or power dynamics (see Figure 1). This framework helps to explain the entrenchment of problematic language hierarchies, whether through restrictive monolingual language policies or within educational programs ostensibly geared toward bilingualism.”

This has been helping me to articulate more clearly the underlying racism and anti-immigrant bias that informs whose langue practices are idealized–whether it be in monolingual or bilingual educational spaces. My thoughts on this are still being shaped by by engaging with related work from linguists, educators, and linguistic anthropologists (see article for massive list of name-drops, but here are two on my bookshelf at the moment). I’m looking forward to writing with this idea of “idealized language ideologies” more to see if it can help me better sort through the entanglements of language, racism, and nationalism in language education. Hopefully the idea that language practices can be “idealized” in different ways, for different individuals, and in different contexts can also help to better expose the host of other problematic ideologies that are ever-present in educational contexts and in society more widely.

For those interested in the full article, you can find it here (or a here for those without access to the journal).

Chang-Bacon, C. K. (2021). Idealized language ideologies: The “new bilingualism” meets the “old” educational inequities. Teachers College Record. 123(1).

Read the original post on Dr. Chang-Bacon’s personal blog.

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: Assistant professor at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development. Former High School English teacher in Lawrence, Massachusetts, ESL Faculty Manager in South Korea, and Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. Chang-Bacon’s scholarship is informed by the dynamic multilingual, multidialectal, and multimodal language practices young people bring to classrooms. Follow on Twitter @ChrisChangBacon

Mentoring Innovations: The Power of Groups

By Nancy Deutsch & Gabe Kuperminc


  • Group mentoring programs can be effective in fostering at least short- term improvements in a broad range of youth outcomes.
  • The multiple types of relationships between and amongst peers and mentors in group mentoring programs contributes to youth’s experiences in, and outcomes from, group mentoring.
  • Limiting the size of the mentoring group (i.e., the ratio of mentors to mentees) and incorporating practices that foster peer support among the mentors can support program quality.
Source: National Mentoring Resource Center

January is National Mentoring Month. When you think about mentoring, you probably picture an adult who has volunteered to take an active and supportive role in a young person’s life. If you’ve heard of programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, you’re probably familiar with the one-on-one approach to mentoring. But whereas one-on-one mentoring programs are widespread, did you know that group mentoring programs actually now serve more youth than one-on-one programs?[i] Group programs come in various shapes and sizes but are differentiated from one-on-one programs in that one or more adults work with multiple youth.

This may sound like a lot of settings you see every day, like after-school clubs, sports teams, or arts programs. Indeed, the basic ingredients for group mentoring exist in many places where multiple youth and one or more adults interact together over time.

But what makes group mentoring different from other programs that involve adults and youth is that it must include intentional mentoring activity and group processes, including meaningful, two-way interactions between one or more mentors and at least two mentees.

Formal programs that match mentors with groups of youth are very popular, with estimates that 35% of youth mentoring programs use a group format and an additional 12% use a combination of one-on-one and group mentoring.[ii] In other group settings, like after-school programs, sports teams, and classrooms, specific efforts may be needed to systematically foster mentoring relationships between the adults and youth.[iii]

In a recent review of group mentoring for the National Mentoring Resource Center, we found three main types of programs:

  1. The first type includes programs in which all activities occur in a group or team-like setting. An example of the first type is a program in San Francisco, CA called Project Arrive, where groups of six to eight students who are vulnerable to dropping out of school meet with mentors each week throughout their 9th grade year to build a sense of belonging in school and a supportive peer network.
  2. The second type of group program blends the popular one-on-one approach to mentoring with group activities. An example of this second type is the Young Women Leaders Program based here at UVA.
  3. The third type of program occurs in existing youth programs, like sports or arts organizations; these programs incorporate intentional elements of mentoring into existing youth programs, and usually include specific training of the adult leaders in topics related to youth development and mentoring and time during the program for explicit mentoring activities.

As group mentoring grows in popularity it is important for researchers and practitioners alike to be attuned to both the potentials of this program format for supporting young people, and also the recommendations that have been identified by the field so far for best practices (see, for example, the recently published supplement to the Elements of Effective Practice for Group Mentoring). In terms of the potential of such programs to have a positive impact on young people, our review uncovered evidence that group mentoring programs can be effective in fostering at least short- term improvements in a broad range of youth outcomes, including those in the behavioral, academic, emotional, and attitudinal/motivational domains. Evidence of longer-term effects is still limited. It should also be noted that there is limited evidence on incorporated programs, as most research has focused on conventional or blended group mentoring programs.

In terms of who benefits the most from group mentoring, our review found some isolated evidence suggesting that group mentoring is particularly effective for youth exposed to higher risk, but group mentoring appears to be potentially effective for youth from a variety of backgrounds.

Program effectiveness may be influenced by the socioemotional and relationship skills and histories that mentors bring to the program, and group facilitation skills is an important additional skill for mentors in group programs. Two features of programs that appear to be important for program quality include limiting the size of the mentoring group, or the ratio of mentors to mentees, and incorporating practices that foster peer support among the mentors.

Group mentoring shares many features of more traditional mentoring programs, but what makes group programs unique is the presence of peers and, often, multiple mentors. This allows for multiple types of relationships between and among mentors and peers that can contribute to youth’s experiences in, and outcomes from, group mentoring. In addition, attributes of the group, such as cohesion and belonging, mutual help, and a sense of group identity, may also contribute to youth outcomes. Researchers and practitioners are often concerned with the potential for negative outcomes, or “negative contagion effects,” particularly when youth exposed to significant risk are grouped together. Our review found that the potential for negative contagion in group mentoring programs does exist, but the presence of strong group facilitators and training for mentors in group programs, as well as intentional planning of assignment of mentees to groups, helps guard against negative consequences. Overall, group mentoring appears to be a promising approach to extend the reach of mentoring to a larger number of youth (and maybe even at a lower cost) than one-on-one mentoring, and to open up new avenues for promoting important skills and social connections that young people need.


[i] Garringer, M., McQuillin, S., & McDaniel, H. (2017). Examining Youth Mentoring Services Across America: Findings from the 2016 National Mentoring Program Survey. MENTOR The National Mentoring Partnership.

[ii] Garringer, M., McQuillin, S., & McDaniel, H. (2017). Examining Youth Mentoring Services Across America: Findings from the 2016 National Mentoring Program Survey. MENTOR The National Mentoring Partnership.

[iii] Banister, E. M., & Begoray, D. L. (2006). A community of practice approach for Aboriginal girls’ sexual health education. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry / Journal de l’Académie Canadienne de Psychiatrie de l’enfant et de l’adolescent, 15, 168–173.

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: Nancy Deutsch is the director of Youth-Nex, the UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development at the School of Education & Human Development. She is a Professor of Research, Statistics & Evaluation and Applied Developmental Science and is also affiliated with the Youth & Social Innovation (YSI) Program. Deutsch’s research examines the socio-ecological contexts of adolescent development, particularly issues related to identity. She has focused on the role of after-school programs and relationships with important adults, and is especially interested in the process of adolescent learning and development as it unfolds within local environments for better understanding about how to create settings that better support youth, especially those at risk due to economic or sociocultural factors.

Author Bio: Gabe Kuperminc is Professor of Psychology and Public Health and Chair of the Community Psychology Doctoral Program at Georgia State University. His research focuses on 1) understanding processes of resilience and positive youth development in adolescence and 2) evaluating the effectiveness of community-based prevention and health promotion programs. He is studying the effectiveness of innovative approaches to youth mentoring, including group mentoring and combining mentoring with other youth development approaches (projects funded by the Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention). He also works with youth-serving non-profit organizations at local, state, and national levels, studying the effectiveness of prevention and youth development programs. A common thread in his work is an interest in understanding how cultural factors play a role in developmental processes and health behavior.

As Educators, What Can We Learn from the Attack on the Capitol?

By Andrew D. Kaufman

A week after protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, the pictures are still hard to fathom. While peaceful demonstrations are rightfully a part of life in Washington, this incident is unlike anything we’ve seen in two centuries.

The Senate chamber was breached by people wearing combat gear and carrying zip ties. A Confederate battle flag was paraded through the Capitol rotunda. Police officers were assaulted, the Speaker of the House’s office was taken over, and at least five people died. 

Source: Andrew Kaufman Blog

There’s a lot to digest when it comes to the events at the Capitol on January 6, and it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the unprecedented tragedy. But as educators, we can also take a step back and help come to terms with the more significant forces at play here, helping our students understand the consequences of our actions. 

Without getting into the political weeds, I think it’s possible to highlight several timeless lessons for educators from the events of the last week:

The Truth Matters

Politicians don’t have the best reputation for truthfulness, but President Trump had destroyed the norms of the office even before losing the election.

According to the Washington Post, Trump had reached more than 20,000 false or misleading claims by August 2020.

After his loss, he began a campaign of blatant disinformation to promote the idea that the election was “stolen” from him, without any reputable information to back it up

Where we get our information is an important question (and worth exploring in another blog post). Still, we have to teach our students to rely on evidence to evaluate the truthfulness of a statement of fact.

  • Where does that information come from?
  • Where did that person get the original data?
  • Are there other sources to confirm this information?

Every one of Trump’s allegations was convincingly refuted by anyone willing to dig into the issue. Yet he was able to convince a sizable portion of the country to question the integrity of the election. It’s our job as educators to help create better citizens who can see when they are being manipulated.

Respect for Others is Paramount

A bedrock principle of the classroom is respect for everyone. Yet outside of the classroom, students see more and more examples in which people are scorned for who they are, where they come from, or what they believe. Trump may be the worst offender, but this is unfortunately a longtime trend in public life. 

As educators, it’s never been more critical to teach our students that you can disagree with other people without demonizing them. One of the most valuable ways we can do this is by modeling it. We also should offer students examples of how this principle works in the real world.

Take this instance from President George H.W. Bush, who wrote an unforgettable letter to President Bill Clinton after losing the 1992 election. Bush, like Trump, became a one-term president, yet he reacted with grace and respect to the person taking charge after him. As he ended his letter, “Your success is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

Stand Up for What is Right

There are lots of villains in this Capitol saga, but you can also find examples of people doing the right thing in the face of pressure. Look at the Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger—a fellow Republican—who was pressured by Trump to “find” him more votes. But Raffensberger, in a phone call leaked to the media, pushed back against the president time after time, even when Trump threatened his political future.

Other state-level officeholders did the same, responding to the president with facts and legal arguments when he argued for loyalty. Even Vice President Pence broke from Trump to execute his duties as president of the Senate to confirm President-elect Biden’s election.

For that, he was threatened with violence. 

Doing your job isn’t always easy, but it’s essential for our democracy to function. Educators can emphasize the urgency of following the rule of law and why breaking norms can lead to disastrous consequences. We should also teach students that getting to the right answer may help you pass a test, but doing the right thing will help you live a life of integrity and purpose. 

Our Institutions Saved the Day

Finally, we must remember that what saved this Capitol fiasco from being even worse is that our institutions functioned as our founders had hoped in a period of crisis. The checks and balances built into the Constitution were designed to keep any branch of government from breaking our democratic norms. In the contested states and at the Supreme Court, the judges followed the law.

State legislatures appointed their selected delegates, whether they agreed with the results or not. Even in the House and Senate, members of Trump’s party denied his wishes to overturn the election, and some are now even supporting his impeachment. 

It’s easy to find faults in our system. But it’s also crucial to see the beauty in its design that enables democracy to function, even when its leader has no qualms about ignoring the will of the people.

Educators are an essential part of helping students to understand the role of each branch of the government and how they fit into the big picture. By teaching this lesson, we help students appreciate the resiliency of our nation and regain their faith in the future. 

In these trying times, we can all think about how to best teach these lessons to our students. It’s important for them—and for our country—that we do so.

Read the original post on Dr. Kaufman’s personal blog.

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: A nationally recognized expert on teaching innovation and service-learning, Dr. Andrew Kaufman is currently an Associate Professor and Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Virginia. He supports faculty and teachers across the country in creating profound learning experiences that change the way students think, act, and feel, while making important contributions to their communities.

How Will We Address the Social-Emotional Learning Loss from COVID-19? Lessons from Camp Common Ground

By Zach Bell

This blog post is the second in a two-part series from Zach Bell reflecting on the Youth-Nex 2019 conference and SEL loss from COVID-19. If you want to learn more about the other researchers and practitioners who inspired this post, read the first post here.


  • Zach Bell is the Co-Founder of Camp Common Ground and a Physical Education and Social-Emotional Learning Teacher in the Oakland Unified School District in California.
  • With COVID-19 and distance learning, students are experiencing more social-emotional learning loss than ever before. 
  • In the second and final post of this series, I further explore the “Four Factors for Youth Moral Development”: (1) safe-environment, (2) well-trained facilitators, (3) experiential pedagogy/youth power, and (4) accessible to most students. I use this framework to evaluate different interventions for doing social-emotional learning work in our current education environment.
Source: Color War Simulation from Zach Bell & Camp Common Ground

“I don’t know if my school is really a safe place to do this work,” I admitted to the 2019 Youth-Nex conference chamber, referring to the Color War simulation we run at Camp Common Ground.

In this simulation, campers experience inequality in an embodied way through a day-long competition where students hold positional privilege or disadvantage based on their assigned color team. Youth must navigate their emotional reactions towards their peers, and towards the authority figures (me and the other staff members) who are enforcing this inequitable system – and make hard choices whether to “rebel” and face consequences. For the full talk about Color War, watch the video here.

What I didn’t realize at the time of the conference was that school might be the only place in 2020 to do “this work” of developing our youth’s social-emotional skills, moral development, and dialogical abilities because in-person programming for Camp Common Ground (and so many other related programs) were cancelled this year due to COVID-19.

Camp Common Ground, is a two-week overnight summer camp for a diverse cohort of Bay Area middle schoolers, was co-founded by myself and current Executive Director Ron Towns, both Oakland educators. The camp includes carefully scaffolded skill-building workshops that lead up to integrative simulations, like Color War. Our program has led to statistically significant boosts in empathy, perspective-taking, self-esteem, and cross-cultural friendships. To learn more about the organization and our impact, click here.

As a middle school math teacher at an experimental bilingual public school in Oakland Unified School District during distance learning, I found that even the “normal” social-emotional learning this year was largely disrupted. I tried to engage students with “virtual restorative justice circles” and daily check-ins, but it simply was not the same. I found that the students who were most active over Zoom and Google Classroom were more likely to be affluent and with a quiet space in their home, and not necessarily the students who were in the greatest need of social-emotional support (though, all students need social and emotional support and development).

So how can we address this social-emotional learning loss from “distance learning” and cancelled summer and after school programs?

Can we use the disruption of COVID-19 as an opportunity to think more broadly about how to reorient our “education system” (or perhaps “holistic child development system”) to prioritize non-academic skills?

If so, where, when, and how do we implement this “re-prioritization”?

What I learned from the 2019 Youth-Nex conference is that for moral development, dialogue, and social justice education to be effective we need the following in place. I’ll refer to these as the Four Factors going forward.

  1. Safe environment with bonds of community, belonging, and trust, so that youth can be vulnerable.
  2. Well-trained adult facilitators who can responsively adapt their work to the developmental and identity intersections of their youth. 
  3. Experiential pedagogy and power structures that share authority with youth so that there is authentic co-construction of rule-based systems with meaningful stakes (e.g. hiring staff) and space for critical reflection and praxis.
  4. Accessibility to most students. In hopes of being realistic given the often under-resourced state of public schools and structural inequity that exist in our systems, I want to add one “realism-check” category so that we’re not just finding solutions for affluent youth.

Below are avenues I see to explore options for doing social-emotional learning work, and admittedly cursory evaluations of each option’s potential:

To read more about the pros and cons of each of these venues please see this downloadable PDF.

At the end of the day, a diversity of tactics is likely the approach we’ll need to take to address this overwhelming need – now more than ever – to teach our youth to be moral actors with a strong foundation of social-emotional and dialogical skills.

The gaps can be daunting; when I recently searched for “gender education nonprofits” there was not a single hit on the first page of Google that mentioned boys or men, so we have a long way to go on providing truly holistic identity development for all of our kids.

But as many of us take a step back during the COVID-19 pandemic to evaluate our current systems, it may be time to think imaginatively and critically of concrete ways that we can support all students in becoming moral actors, in whatever context they are in.

Let’s look at our educational practices with that lens. Rather than just asking “can they score a point?”, let’s ask, “are they grappling with what’s a fair rule?” and “are they deciding how to score the points, and if they even want to?” May we approach these challenging tasks with playfulness and a love of learning (see the Calvin & Hobbes comic in the downloadable PDF).

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: Zach Bell is a public middle school P.E. and social-emotional learning teacher in Oakland, California. In 2015, he co-founded Camp Common Ground, an inter-cultural overnight summer camp, where he co-designed and facilitated a curriculum about empathy-building, conflict resolution, and gender norms. Earlier in his career, he was a freelance writer and co-founder of an online magazine for youth activists, before working in business development at an ed-tech start up. More recently, he has deepened his work as a gender educator, including as a middle school basketball coach, running a boy’s group, and founding Real Men Share, an online magazine for men to share vulnerably. He is also writing a film about masculinity, listening to a lot of Ram Dass, and going to the beach.

1-Year Later, Reflecting on Dialoging for Democracy and Teaching in a Pandemic

By Zach Bell

This blog post is the first in a two-part series from Zach Bell reflecting on the Youth-Nex 2019 conference and SEL loss from COVID-19. Read more about how to address the social-emotional learning loss from COVID-19 in the second blog post here.


  • Zach Bell is the Co-Founder of Camp Common Ground and a Physical Education and Social-Emotional Learning Teacher in the Oakland Unified School District in California.
  • In the first post of this series, I examine the content from the 2019 Youth-Nex Conference on “Dialoging for Democracy: Youth Moral Reasoning and Social Justice” and consider what it means for the future of social-emotional learning in public schools.
  • Reflecting on the presentations and panels from youth performances, practitioners and researchers, I provide a foundation for Four Factors I will refer to later (safe-environment, well-trained facilitators, experiential pedagogy/youth power, and accessible to most students).
Zach Bell presents at the 2019 Youth-Nex Conference.

One year ago in November 2019, I attended and presented at the Youth-Nex 2019 conference on “Dialoging for Democracy: Youth Moral Reasoning and Social Justice.” Since then, the world for teachers and after-school programs has changed dramatically. In this short series, I reflect on what I learned at the conference on moral development, dialogue, and social justice education, and then apply this to my experience as a P.E. and Social-Emotional Learning Teacher.

What’s required of the setting for youth to develop as moral actors?

Social and emotional growth requires vulnerability, and the opening panelists at the conference discussed the need for creating an environment of safety and trust for youth to be open to vulnerability. Similarly, the power dynamics in the space need to actually trust youth with authority if we expect them to practice being moral actors, not just rule-followers.

Shawn Brown, at Teen Empowerment Rochester, said it “Takes real time, and effort, and trust…young people come to us because they’re needed, not because they’re needy.” At TE-Rochester, the ten young people in their program had a 50% vote on adult staff hiring decisions. Emma Yackso, Director of the Side-by-Side Youth Leadership Council, an LGBTQ “youth led, adult supported” center in Virginia gives the youth council a say in all decisions each week, from the design of the space to curricular choices, from the date for prom to the strategic priorities for the organization.

How can these models of “youth led, adult supported” learning be applied in a school setting? Is that even possible without totally reimagining school?

Further panelists discussed the need for not just safe environments, but well-trained educators who have done their own internal work and can provide developmentally appropriate curricula. For example, Larry Nucci, PhD, Professor of Education at UC Berkeley, discussed the “Moral Development Curve,” in which 8-year olds and 19-year olds are more likely to have similar responses than 11 to 16-year olds to a situation where they see someone drop a $20 bill.

Gutsavo Carlo, PhD, Professor of Human Development at University of Missouri, explained the necessity of layering in cultural identity when cultivating moral development. For example, he found that understanding the concept of familismo, the family unit, was important in predicting prosocial behavior in Latinx communities. Emma Yackso, from the youth-led Side-by-Side center mentioned above, noted that she needed to “prep the adults in the board meeting about what it’s like to have kids there.”

It’s hard enough to find qualified educators amidst a national teacher shortage. How can we find, or train, educators with these complex identity and moral-development skills?

My panel was tasked with speaking to the actual pedagogical practices to cultivate these skills. This included elevating youth voices, like the Mikva Challenge’s “Project Soapbox” that supports youth in engaging in civic participation on issues they’re passionate about. Similarly, it included resourcing youth artistic creation, like A King’s Story, a play by Joshua St. Hill, a high school student, about police violence. 

In my talk, I shared about simulation and game-based pedagogy for moral development, looking at the co-construction of rule-based systems like in John Hunter’s famous “World Peace Game”, and Jane Elliott’’s famous 1968 blue-eyes brown-eyes experiment to process Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination with her third graders.

That sounds “cool”, but seriously, how can any of these pedagogical practices find their way into 48-minute academic period-packed school days?

Well, the truth is I don’t know. But I want to explore that with educators and collaborators at a distance. Using these experiences, I created Four Factors to evaluate possible routes to democratizing these critical moral and social-emotional skills in the context of the U.S. education system. These Four Factors are:

  1. Safe-environment,
  2. Well-trained facilitators,
  3. Pedagogy/youth power, and
  4. Accessibility to most students.

To learn more about these factors and an evaluation of different routes for addressing the social-emotional learning loss from COVID-19, please read the second blog posted here

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: Zach Bell is a public middle school P.E. and social-emotional learning teacher in Oakland, California. In 2015, he co-founded Camp Common Ground, an inter-cultural overnight summer camp, where he co-designed and facilitated a curriculum about empathy-building, conflict resolution, and gender norms. Earlier in his career, he was a freelance writer and co-founder of an online magazine for youth activists, before working in business development at an ed-tech start up. More recently, he has deepened his work as a gender educator, including as a middle school basketball coach, running a boy’s group, and founding Real Men Share, an online magazine for men to share vulnerably. He is also writing a film about masculinity, listening to a lot of Ram Dass, and going to the beach.

For Youth, COVID-19 Changed Everything, but the National Response Movement Gave Me New Purpose

By Isabella, a 16-year old in Oregon.


  • My name is Isabella and I am a 16-year old junior who wants to share more about my COVID-19 experience.
  • During COVID-19, I joined the Mikva Challenge National Youth Response Movement (NYRM) and after 8 months I have some advice for others.
  • In this youth-led group, myself and others like me encouraged youth to share their experiences from the pandemic, did social media takeovers, developed policy recommendations, and organized a national roundtable discussion.

As a junior at one of the largest public high schools in Portland, Oregon, I have always cared a lot about my education, and have attended school everyday. From the age of four I have been dedicated to dance and have taken classes 3-6 days a week after school. Through dance, school, and other activities over the years, I have developed multiple different friend groups I’m equally close to and whom I rely on.

The pandemic changed everything. In less than 24 hours, every constant that I once had in my life had been taken from me, and from everyone I knew.

Life in the Pandemic & an Opportunity

For the first few weeks of the pandemic, I no longer had school, dance, or access to my friends in the way I had always known. It felt like someone just flipped a switch and nothing would ever be the same again; I felt panicked and anxious. To fill my days and distract myself, I took up running, I started reading more, and taking more time for myself. 

A couple weeks into the stay at home order, my Mock Trial teacher sent me an email telling me that he was choosing me to be one of his three nominees for the Mikva Challenge National Youth Response Movement. I was honored when I saw that email and knew I wanted to be a part of this, I wanted my voice to be heard. To my surprise, two days later I was notified of acceptance from Mikva Challenge, changing the way the rest of my year and summer would go. 

The Youth Response & Community

The National Youth Response Movement (NYRM), is a national group of 19 high school and college students from 14 states. Near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we gathered virtually to share our experiences and concerns for youth during this pandemic. We created a series of projects and initiatives for the spring and summer:

  1. Our first project as NYRM was to encourage youth to share their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. In creating this project, we wanted young people to share the issues that were most important and pressing to them during this pandemic, and then also create a call to action on how something could be done about it. This way, youth could be part of the national conversation about the next steps. 
  2. Our second project was focused on destigmatizing mental health and making virtual mental health resources more accessible to youth, since this is one of the major issues that we recognized was impacting young people during this pandemic. In order to do this, we held a social media takeover week on Mikva Challenge’s Instagram and my colleague Jennifer and I co-hosted an Instagram live to facilitate a conversation about mental health and self-care for youth. 
  3. Later in the summer, our team shifted focus to making schools more equitable, just, and student-centered. To accomplish this, we sent letters (which other youth can still do using the template provided in the previous link) to elected officials across the country about the importance of Social Emotional Learning in schools. We also held discussions on racial injustice and forms of activism with experts and other youth organizations, and created policy recommendations which we shared with stakeholders (like school board members, principals and teachers, and decision makers across the country). 
  4. As a culmination of our work, we planned and held a National Youth Policy Roundtable with 3 current and former members of Congress, 6 influencers, and a grand total of 91 youth participants from across the country who got to hear from and engage with these national decision makers about the quest to make schools more just, equitable, and student-centered places. 

We accomplished a lot this summer as NYRM, and have made our voices heard by many! 

One of the most amazing things about being a part of NYRM was the sense of family and community we accomplished through using Zoom. The tremendous amount of support and encouragement that everyone gave, along with the amount of fun we had, created a bond between us all. What made this NYRM family even better is that we’ve had each other through this time of uncertainty. We’ve had each other’s support, shoulders to cry on, and we are each other’s support system. This is what made NYRM so special.

Now more than ever, this sense of community and family is important for youth, whether it’s at home, with family, school, friends, or anywhere else.

Even if there was not a global pandemic, a support system is extremely important to have in one’s life, one’s mental health, and wellbeing. The really special thing about our NYRM family is that we share common goals and similar values. Working with such driven people inspired me. They empowered me, built me up, and they continue to do this for me today. 

Living during this pandemic has changed my life, and not necessarily in a negative way. There are many challenges that I am still experiencing, especially as we go back into the school year. If it weren’t for this pandemic, NYRM wouldn’t exist so I would have never had the opportunity to be a part of it. I have another family now, I know other people who share the same values I do and who will have my back no matter what. This has sparked a passion for activism in me that I have never felt before. The experience with NYRM has inspired my colleague Shanthi and I to start a local steering committee within our school called the “Youth Advocacy Coalition.” We will work with our principal and school administrators to implement more avenues for youth voices within our school community and district. 

Advice for Others

One lesson and word of advice I would like to share with schools, administrators, teachers, and parents/guardians regarding the development of youth during this time, is to take the time to really listen. Listen to young people, listen to your students, listen to your children, because the best way you can make change or help them is to pause and hear what they are saying.

To listen isn’t only the act of listening, but also the responsibility for action, like asking questions or advocating on the behalf of youth. Listen to what youth have to say, and then find out the actions you can take to help make said change.

I believe people underestimate youth. We are paying attention to what is going on, we are keeping ourselves informed around what is going on in the world, and we care about how this pandemic is going to impact our lives in the future and possibly forever. Right now, finding solutions to racial injustice and the importance of the upcoming election are more important than ever. Right now, action from the people, local and federal state leaders, and community members is necessary. Young people are the leaders of today and of the future, and our voices matter.

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: Isabella is a junior in High School in Portland, OR. She has had a passion for youth advocacy since elementary school. During the spring and summer of 2020, she was 1 of 19 student steering committee members of Mikva Challenge’s National Youth Response Movement team. They began as a response to COVID-19 addressing issues important to young people and raising awareness of these to local and federal decision makers. She is passionate about photography as an outlet for creativity and storytelling, and she loves spending time with her two dogs!

Centering Youth Voice: School Climate & Culture in the Middle Grades

By Dr. Dimelza Gonzales-Flores

This blog post is the third in a series of three from the Remaking Middle School initiative. See the first post from the Research to Practice Design Team and the second post from the Professional Learning & Development Design Team


  • The middle school years represent an optimal developmental period for centering youth voice and inspiring youth to take action regarding issues impacting their life, including their education.
  • The Remaking Middle School School Climate & Culture Design Team created a toolkit to help educators understand how youth voice can be a central component in building and sustaining a positive school climate and culture in the middle grades.
  • The toolkit provides a beginning set of resources and references for educators to adopt practices that center youth voice in their school, recognizing that giving early adolescents a voice in school empowers them and makes them feel like they belong, they are valued, and their contributions matter.
Explore the full toolkit here.

For too long we’ve brushed aside the importance of the middle school years. Policymakers talk about the critical need for access to quality early childhood education and the necessity to graduate with real-world skills. Agreed. But what about the middle school years? To put it plainly, what we’ve done isn’t enough. Our schools are not equitable. The student experience is not optimal. We need to reimagine the middle school experience for all students – and we should start with school climate and culture.

The School Climate and Culture Design Team was tasked with taking a closer look at school climate and culture in the middle grades. The team discussed a number of core challenges related to school climate and culture, and a common theme that emerged was the influence of youth voice in shaping school climate and culture.

What makes the period of early adolescence development unique is that youth are beginning to develop complex thinking skills and perspective taking . These skills are critical as they give young people the ability to initiate a deeper exploration of issues within their school. With these new burgeoning skills, adolescents can begin to ask questions about the world around them and how societies and institutions, like education, function. Thus, the middle school years represent an optimal developmental period for centering youth voice and inspiring youth to take action regarding issues impacting their life. Giving early adolescents a voice in school empowers them and makes them feel like they belong, they are valued, and their contributions matter. These competency feelings also help middle school youth fully engage and create space for a positive school climate and culture.

It is widely recognized that school climate and culture impacts the ways in which students successfully achieve learning outcomes. When youth are given the space for innovation and their voices are centered, the school climate can be shaped to promote equity and fairness, and the school culture can allow opportunity for youth to respond to their own learning needs. Engaging youth voice must be considered an essential element in creating a school climate and culture that promotes engagement and success for all youth.

Centering youth voice in school climate and culture requires middle school educators to think critically about when they need to step up (and step out) to best support adolescence during this critical developmental period. To truly center the voice of youth, we must create space for all youth to lead in shaping school climate and culture. This is particularly important for those youth whose voices often go unheard because they are minoritized based on race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, religion, ability, or other identities. To successfully accomplish this goal, our middle schools must move beyond school clubs and siloed events emphasizing student voice, and weave specific practices into the daily fabric of school life.

As a Design Team, we believe there is tremendous opportunity to empower young adolescents in helping to shape and improve their school culture and climate such that students are engaged and growing – academically, socially, and emotionally – to their fullest potential. With this in mind, our team created a toolkit to help educators in schools to:

  • More deeply understand the importance of youth voice in the middle grades;
  • Understand how youth voice can be a central component in building and sustaining a positive school climate and culture in the middle grades; and 
  • Provide a beginning set of resources and references for educators to adopt practices that center youth voice in their school. 

The toolkit includes several components:

  • The rationale statement helps readers to understand what youth voice is, the importance of the youth voice for young adolescents (and how it aligns to the developmental needs and capabilities of this age), and how youth voice can have an impact on school climate and culture.
  • The inspirational stories and examples illustrate youth voice in schools and specifically how youth voice can positively impact school climate and culture. 
  • The getting started section is a set of beginning prompts and resources that educators can use to advocate for and support the implementation of youth voice practices in their schools to promote positive school climate and culture.

Explore the full toolkit here.

The toolkit was designed to be utilized and implemented in any given conditions. The diversity of resources in the last part of the toolkit exemplifies the range of conditions in which this toolkit can be used.

We recognize that we are sharing this tool during an unprecedented time in education as we navigate the complexities and challenges of COVID-19. While school may look different this year, whether virtual or in-person, one might argue that school climate matters now more than ever. We hope that this resource encourages educators to keep student voices and ideas at the core to ensure young people are getting what they need most during this time. 

We encourage you to share your feedback on the tool via the Remaking Middle School Design Teams Feedback Survey

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: Dimelza currently serves as the Director of Academics & Social-Emotional Learning at Higher Achievement, where she designs out-of-school programming to support in-school learning. She is a former middle school teacher, avid advocate for English language learners, and a proud cat-mom.