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Conflict Resolution

Inviting Youth to the Table

15th June 2017
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I believe that the benefits of youth – a limitless mindset, naivete, and optimism – make young people some of the best problem solvers in our world today. Unlike most adults who have tried and failed at something (likely many times), or caregivers who must prioritize their income over all else for the sake of their families, young people often exemplify unrestrictive perceptions of their potential.

Take Boyan Slat, for example. When Boyan was just a 16-year-old diving in the sea, he had an epiphany. Overwhelmed by the garbage he encountered, Boyan decided to collect and remove all the plastic in the ocean. This boundless naivete and innate optimism has evolved into the largest ocean cleanup effort in history. Today this 22-year-old has more than $30M of investment money to make his vision a reality. While he has no college degree (his invention took off and he didn’t have time to complete his studies), he is the CEO and Founder of The Ocean Cleanup, an innovative organization which might actually restore our seas and save lives around the globe.
There are many other youth around the world who are just as driven to solve important issues in their community; here are a few noteworthy projects from my region in Colorado.

 

Palmer High School in Colorado Springs has been riddled in recent years with a sizeable increase in teen suicides. Between 2014 and 2015 teen suicide in the Springs doubled, and nearly half of these deaths were that of Palmer students. Rocked by the loss, the Palmer High School community was unsure how to handle the emotional burden landing in their laps. According to PeaceJam students attending the school, counselors and educators often did not talk about the problem, possibly for fear of exacerbating the issue or simply because they themselves did not have the resources they needed to support their students. In response, the PeaceJammers at Palmer launched a campaign to address the mental health stigma that they believe contributes to the root cause of this problem. Sources of Strength is a youth led initiative aimed at destigmatizing those in need of mental health services, while also training the youth themselves to mediate, counsel and support their peers. The concept of youth-counseling-youth is audacious, and is an expression of a limitless mindset. Perhaps licensed and certified counselors can’t reach troubled teens in time, but maybe youth trained as skilled mediators can.
Then there are the students at Evergreen High School who responded to the growing “rape culture” in their school community (and in their opinion, our nation) with an art for social change project titled Crossing the Line. This 45-minute play was the first component of many for their Mind Body Initiative, which will ultimately include art showings, short films, school-wide PSAs, as well as other interactive happenings. Crossing the Line was written by the students themselves, and brings the audience through the daunting task of looking honestly at the objectification of women as it relates to sexual harassment and assault. Using art as a tool for awareness and transformation can get directly to the heart of an issue in a way that is both personal and safe. After the performance, the group invited a panel of experts to the stage where they unpacked the stigma of sexual assault and explored root cases and prevention strategies.

 

A colleague once described the role of a teacher in these service and project based learning experiences. When done right, he argued, the teachers are just the bumpers down the bowling lane; we are there to keep kids out of the gutter and moving toward their goals. Once we stop looking at instruction as something we deliver and youth consume, the opportunity to solve problems as equals arises. Time and again, courageous young leaders expose their bold optimism for what is possible, and challenge adults to step up to the problem-solving table. Sometimes the adults just need to lean back and let the benefits of youth unfold their own meaningful solutions.

 

Tamera Sakotas
Regional Coordinator
PeaceJam Rocky Mountain

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