Wayfinders: Optimism Will Lead the Way

Photo: Annabelle Armstrong-Temple

Last year was a year like no other.  As we continue to navigate the pandemic in 2021, we must consider the possible long-term consequences to how young people hope and plan for the future. The good news is this: research shows that young people continue to be optimistic despite having to navigate significant disruptions to their lives over the past year. Working together, we can nurture that feeling of optimism and help guide them to a path that leads them to the vibrant futures they envision for themselves. 

Inside this month’s Wayfinders:  

  • A newly released report about how young people in New York City came together to save a summer employment program,  
  • A recent analysis on race and gender equity gaps in access to both AP and dual enrollment coursework across states and school districts,
  • Important research findings released in December highlighting that as Black and Latino young people adjust to the realities of COVID-19, they are also paying attention and engaged on racial justice issues, 
  • Bill & Melinda Gates’ annual letter which highlights the importance of student supports, like mentoring and advising, especially in the COVID context, 
  • And finally, a collection of articles we’re reading and events we’re looking forward to in February. 

Youth Voice is Not a Box You Check Off 

“This work helped me find my voice. I have always wanted to be a doctor, but this experience has made me wonder whether I should be a public servant and political leader. I saw the ability that public officials have to help their community, and I’ve started wondering if that’s the path for me. My community needs the help, and I now know that I have a powerful voice.” – La’Toya Beechum, student organizer and lead author of Youth Voice is Not a Box You Check Off
During the summer of 2020, following New York City’s cancellation of the Summer Youth Employment Program, young people came together and worked with other youth advocates to save the program for thousands of students. This report tells the story of that advocacy, showcasing the work of young people through the lens of the mediums they used to organize amidst the continued threat of the Covid pandemic — texts, tik toks, zoom calls, and online petitions among other digital tools and assets. This student-led narrative was developed jointly by Teens Take Charge and HERE to HERE, affirming the importance of SYEP, the value of real-world learning experiences, and the vital role youth voice must play in systems change. Read the full report here.

How Equitable Is Access to AP and Dual Enrollment? 

A recent analysis from Community College Research Center (CCRC) reveals race and gender equity gaps in access to both AP and dual enrollment coursework across states and school districts. However, while equity gaps in access are widespread, about one in five districts nationally have closed such gaps in access to dual enrollment. Differences across states and districts in access to dual enrollment raise important questions about how educators can design these programs to advance equity. In fall 2020, CCRC and the Aspen Institute released the Dual Enrollment Playbook: A Guide to Equitable Acceleration for Students, which details the practices of nine dual enrollment programs in Florida, Ohio, and Washington that have narrowed or closed equity gaps — both in access to dual enrollment and in post–high school college outcomes — for Black, Latino, Indigenous, and Pacific Islander students.

Young People Remain Engaged and Hopeful on Racial Justice

The pandemic has caused many young people to reconsider their expectations related to education and work. At the same time, as young people adjust to the impacts of COVID-19, they are paying attention to and participating in conversations and events happening around them related to policing and racial justice — these experiences are also shaping how they think about their futures. To them, being able to be engaged in promoting change on these issues feels more like an opportunity than a burden. This sense of possibility feels connected to young people’s strong sense of personal agency, observed in earlier research conducted by Equitable Futures, and their belief that they are the most important changemakers in their own lives. 

Engaging and empowering young people with the support they need to navigate their educational and career pathways has been a challenge; however, as youth development professionals, educators, policy makers, grantmakers and program designers, we must know that young people are still present and engaged on issues that matter to them — even while navigating the pandemic. Review the full research findings here

What We’re Reading 

Bill & Melinda Gates released their annual letter yesterday, shedding light on the ways COVID-19 has disrupted our daily lives, how it’s exacerbated inequality, and the work the foundation has done to help support the recovery, including for students.

Here’s what else we’re reading:

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