Youth Action Lab: Undergraduates Reflect on Leading and Learning with Local Youth

By Anya Pfeiffer, Kennedy Eagle, Olivia Burke, Kate Price, & Alexis Allen


  • Youth Action Lab (YAL) helps young people develop social science research skills to transform their lives and communities.
  • YAL uses a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) framework to engage youth as researchers who systematically explore community issues they care about.
  • In this article, undergraduates serving as mentors in the YAL reflect on their experiences working with local high schoolers to design research studies, gather and analyze data, and take action to address the issues they explored.
Source: Students participating in YAL created this video to explain the YPAR framework.

As Youth and Social Innovation (YSI) majors, we joined Youth Action Lab (YAL) as our community-engaged project for the YSI capstone class, an accumulating applied course required for all seniors in the YSI major. The goal of YAL is to equip young people with research skills to transform their lives and communities.

Youth Participatory Action Research

In YAL, we used a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) framework where youth become researchers, systematically exploring issues that impact their schools and communities. Building on their lived experiences and expertise, our high school students develop research questions, design social science studies, gather and analyze data, and then take action to address the issues they explore. YAL uses a mentor-led approach, where we, as undergraduates at the University of Virginia, teach a YPAR curriculum through interactive lessons tailored to meet each group’s needs and objectives. By building community and promoting equity and inclusion, YAL empowers youth through research and collaboration.

Tackling Virtual Learning

One of our first tasks for YAL was researching best practices for virtual learning. Some strategies we found helpful were using digital collaboration tools and providing opportunities for flexibility and student choice. Collaboration tools (such as using breakout rooms and Padlet) allowed students to work together in smaller groups and participate in interactive experiences.

Allowing students to co-construct our lessons by asking what they’d like to learn or how we could support their project also created a more engaged learning environment. Sometimes, this looked like just showing up to listen and provide a space to discuss current events instead of a lesson. Most importantly, we learned to make a plan but be open to adjusting — extending a meaningful activity or discussion is much more important than doing scheduled activities.

YPAR in Action

We applied our research on virtual learning as we started working with two high school student groups, Charlottesville City Youth Council and Albemarle High School Black Student Union. Throughout the year, our team meets with each group biweekly to help guide them through lessons that support the research process.

Youth Council (YC) decided to explore why some students attend private middle schools instead of Walker and Buford but then return to Charlottesville City Schools for high school. Here are some highlights from their research project:

  • The students created a survey to ask local high school students about their middle school experiences and perceptions of different schools. The survey received over 70 responses.
  • YC is now in the process of interviewing adult stakeholders including parents and school board members. Conducting a mixed methods research project has allowed them gain experience with surveys and interviews and engage with different community stakeholders.
  • By the end of the year, YC will present their research findings to City Council and/or the Charlottesville City School Board. YC hopes their research will push the City to implement more programming to address the stigma around public middle schools.

Our team of facilitators have loved working with this group. They are wise beyond their years and show a high-level understanding of societal issues including classism and racism which they are mindful of in their research.

Black Student Union (BSU) is a student organization focused on sharing and supporting the culture and experiences of Black students at Albemarle High School. During our first meetings, BSU identified several issues at their school and decided to examine the lack of racial/ethnic diversity in Dual Enrollment (DE) and Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Since most BSU students have experienced being one of few Black students in higher-level classes, they had a personal connection to the issue. Here are some highlights from their research project:

  • With support from their principal, BSU recently sent surveys to students, teachers, school counselors, and families and are planning interviews to help identify potential solutions. 
  • One idea they have is a summer program that will serve as a bridge to prepare students to transition to more advanced classes. BSU’s overall goal is to make higher level courses more accessible and ensure students of color are prepared to succeed.
  • BSU plans to present their research findings to the Albemarle High School staff and leadership and are also exploring the possibility of presenting to the Albemarle County School Board.

In addition to conducting this research project, BSU continues to advocate for Black students and has held multiple events for their school community to celebrate Black culture and history. Our team has been beyond impressed by this group of motivated and passionate students.

Final Thoughts

Working with two very different and incredibly inspiring groups of high school students has been such a wonderful opportunity. As YAL facilitators, we teach high schoolers how to frame and investigate real world issues through social science research, but we undoubtedly learned just as much from them about framing and addressing problems in our own lives and communities.

YAL is supported by the Equity Center and Youth-Nex. We are always looking for new partners interested in bringing YPAR to the youth they serve. To learn more about YAL and YPAR resources, please visit our website.

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: Anya Pfeiffer is a fourth year Youth & Social Innovation Major and a first year candidate for a Master’s of Public Policy and Leadership from the Batten School. After graduation, she hopes to work on education or housing policy.

Author Bio: Olivia Burke is a 4th year Youth and Social Innovation major and Public Policy minor who is passionate about education research. Next year she will pursue her M.Ed. in Quantitative Analytics at UVA. 

Author Bio: Kate Price is a fourth year student majoring in Youth & Social Innovation in the School of Education. She is extremely interested in applying youth developmental frameworks to practical settings which help prompt adolescents to critically reflect, use their voice, and make a difference in their communities. 

Kennedy Eagle and Alexis Allen are also YSI students.

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.

Media & Black Adolescents Series: A Look at the Tragic Mulatto in Spike Lee’s Crooklyn

By Bryce Wyles

This blog post is the second 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 second of five posts in the series, the youth writer reviews “Crooklyn” a movie following the Carmichael family in a neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, and examines the tragic mulatto and reinforced internal racism.
Song straightens Troy’s hair (Lee, 1994, 1:13:11)

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

  • Why might “socially ascribed blackness” be more influential in socializing Black children than their own perception of race? Does that perception even take root before socialization begins?
  • Viola does not visit Brooklyn, though she wants to. How might her perception of “Crooklyn” differ or align with Troy’s view of Song’s home?


Chasing her children out of bed at 4 AM, scolding them for failing to clean the kitchen as she had asked, Carolyn Carmichael exclaims, “This ain’t no plantation. I’m not a slave…and I certainly am not a play thing!” (Lee, 1994, 12:50). The Carmichael family—Carolyn, Woody, and their five children—is the heart of Spike Lee’s 1994 movie Crooklyn. Occurring in a neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, Crooklyn sees the Carmichaels, alongside their friends and relatives, navigating the quarrelsome, blurred difficulties of the personal and the political:

  • The personal: raising five children on a low income; feuding with neighbors, drug addicts, school bullies; interacting with aunts and uncles that either nurture or lay judgement. 
  • The political: piecing through the social connotations of welfare and food stamps; opposing and affirming the politics of gender and sex roles; witnessing casual racism in Brooklyn and suggesting institutional racism at large. 

In what may seem a lighthearted digression in Lee’s career, the iconic director uses the Carmichaels to dissect life in America—the ups, downs, lefts, and rights—for a struggling Black family.

Lee’s film walks both a comedic and serious line. Themes of racism and poverty are striking, yet you can’t help but burst out laughing when Aunt Song’s poor dead dog flies out of a foldout futon. That scene truthfully captures the entirety of the film: it’s dark, undoubtedly, at times, but somehow it keeps Lee’s satirical charm. Crooklyn’s characters—most of them, at least—are loveable, funny, and relatable. Recalling Lee’s 2018 film BlacKkKlansman, it’s clear that his filmmaking is distinct, and iconic, in its blend of humor and commentary.

The Tragic Mulatto

One of Lee’s most telling portrayals in the film is that of Aunt Song, whom Troy, the Carmichaels’ daughter, goes to stay with at one point in the film. Song immediately juxtaposes the Carmichael family—her affluent lifestyle contrasts the Carmichaels’ small apartment and low income. Her first remark to Troy, though, suggests a juxtaposition beyond just affluence; seeing Troy’s hair, Song belittlingly asks, “All those little tiny braids and things, what y’all call that?” “Braids,” Carolyn responds, with a painted smile, aware of Song’s distaste for Troy’s hair (Lee, 1994, 1:07:44). 

Other scenes at Song’s household include an array of White dolls adorning Song’s adopted daughter’s dresser. We see Song take out Troy’s braided hair in favor of straightened locks, in one scene commenting, “Don’t tell me you got the nerve to be tender-headed with these naps” (Lee, 1994, 1:12:59). Whether knowingly or not, Song has delineated Whiteness as an ideal, through the dolls she buys her daughter Viola and her insistence that straightened, flowing hair garner praise over braids and beads. Song could be said to have already answered the question as to whether “she should accept her socially ascribed blackness or reject it in favor of a more privileged whiteness” (Jackson, 2006, p. 33). This dilemma is one Jackson (2006) ascribes to the Black character archetype of the tragic mulatto. Jackson (2006) identifies the tragic mulatto as a Black woman who enters an identity crisis as she grapples with her morals in association with her race, often light-skinned enough to pass as White (p. 33-4).

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: Bryce Wyles is a second-year student at the University of Virginia majoring in English and Media Studies. He enjoys viewing and analyzing media ranging from Netflix shows to classic literature to press publications. Originally from Chesapeake, Virginia, he currently lives in Charlottesville, where he also writes for the student-run newspaper The Cavalier Daily.

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

Media & Black Adolescents Series: An Unjust Law is No Law At All

By Jamie Kang

This blog post is the first 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 first of five posts in the series, the youth writer reviews “The Great Debaters,” a true story centering around the debate team from Wiley, a historically Black college (HBCU) in Texas.
Source: Youtube, User Danille Desiree Mae
Video Reference: Video depicts the final debate of the film on the topic of civil disobedience which is referenced throughout the blog.

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

  • This film has a mainly Black cast, do you think that contributes to the less stereotyped depictions of the characters? 
  • Why do you think the filmmakers chose to make this film (set in 1930) in 2007? What aspects of the film are still relevant today?

The Great Debaters

For this blog, I watched the 2007 film “The Great Debaters”. The movie, based on a true story, centers around the debate team from Wiley, a Historically Black College (HBCU) in Texas. Led by their debate coach Melvin Tolson, the team begins to gain traction after they beat other Black colleges in the area and  go on to have an undefeated season. Their goal is to debate teams from white colleges, and they eventually advance enough to beat the reigning champions at Harvard, winning the national debate championships. In the movie, the team contains four students, but one member drops out part way through the season due to Mr. Tolson’s involvement and leadership in the rebellion of sharecroppers, which led to him being targeted by the police.

In this blog, I will mainly focus on two characters: the team alternate James Farmer and his father who is a professor at Wiley. At just 14, James is the youngest member of the team; mainly a researcher, not succeeding in actual debates until the end of the film. His father, Mr. Farmer becomes central to the story when he bails Mr. Tolson out of jail during his unjust arrest. Through their relationship, the film examines the racial socialization process. It also touches on important issues facing America during the 1930s, such as the deep racism in the Jim Crow South, lynchings, unionization of sharecroppers and workers. The movie centers around themes of civil disobedience, often spouting the famous quote “an unjust law is no law at all” which is still relevant today.

Civil Disobedience

I loved the film, especially as the questions surrounding the morality of civil disobedience as a weapon in the fight for justice feel very salient in today’s times. In the film, Mr. Tulson was risking his safety, career, and even his life to help the sharecroppers organize and fight for their rights. He received criticism that he was too radical and still involved himself in a fight that wasn’t his own. When faced with these judgements he responded “A hungry negro steals a chicken, he goes to jail. A rich businessman steals bonds and goes to congress. I think that’s wrong, now if that makes me a radical, a socialist, a communist then so be it” (Washington, 2007). In today’s world, we are still fighting some of the same injustices that existed in the 1930s. Jim Crow laws may have been abolished, but they never fully went away.

Racism and injustice are embedded in our housing and education systems, our policing, prisons, and more. Moreover, when people take a stand against these or other injustices they are sometimes labeled as radicals, socialist, and/or communists much like Mr. Tulson was in the film.

The film’s final debate on civil disobedience feels incredibly relevant in the wake of the nationwide protests in 2020 as part of the Black Lives Matter Movement. During the debate, one of the Harvard students tells a story about his dad, a police officer whose partner was killed in the line of duty. He comments “nothing that erodes the law can be moral, no matter what name we give it”. In his response, James explains “there is no rule of law in the Jim Crow South. An unjust law is no law at all. Which means I have a right, even a duty to resist. With violence or civil disobedience” (Washington, 2007). There is so much power and truth in his final arguments, especially in the context of today. I would echo his sentiment that it is our duty to take a stand against these injustices.

Civil disobedience and even violent protests are not any less moral than the way in which our system is currently structured.

According to Psychology professor A. Wade Boykin and writer F.D Toms, many Black people in America face a “Triple Quandary.” They explain that, “the Black experience in America is distinguished by the fact that qualities attributed to Blackness are in opposition to the qualities that are rewarded in society,” (Boykin & Toms, 1985). This is some of what James referenced in his argument. These examples help demonstrate how prevalent the themes of the film are in our contemporary society.

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: Jamie Kang is a third year student at the University of Virginia from Arlington Virginia. She is studying Psychology and Youth and Social Innovation, but has varying interests including media and politics, and she enjoys working with children.

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.