In March, Danielle Stewart joined the second class of YouCAN Advocates to develop a youth education advocacy month in DeKalb County, Georgia. She sat down with 50CAN to share a look into how her work is progressing and what she’s learning in the field.
As a YouCAN Advocate in DeKalb County embarking on my journey, my focus has been on community building—looking at the organizations that have given me a sense of community in my personal life and replicating their strengths in my project. One of the most fulfilling organizations in my life has been volunteering, mentoring and connecting with students and parents of the Beulah Rising Stars Gavel Club. This club consists of an enthusiastic and passionate group of young people who are committed to becoming great leaders and public speakers.
We designated the month of April “Youth Educational Advocacy Month” to give students the platform to apply the public speaking skills which they were being taught for their own personal causes and to vocalize their educational passions.
Weekly, students were asked to think about their passions and beliefs and to reflect on what myths existed in their education worlds. This included topics about school closings and not being labeled a statistic of failing schools, issues around school choice, accountability and responsibility for academic success.
For the first week of Youth Educational Advocacy Month, we selected the theme “stand for something or fall for anything.” I facilitated a discussion on the topic which included a time for students to share their thoughts about their personal beliefs regarding academic excellence and their personal convictions in life. By identifying and sharing these beliefs, students could vision-set for how they wanted to get involved in educational advocacy.
The following week, the group was asked to think about the role and the power of individual voice and how advocates could benefit from many voices with the theme “my voice, your voice, our voice.” The session taught students about the power of listening to and utilizing all three voices. Students shared stories that illustrated situations where each voice was appropriate. They also engaged in a role-playing activity to determine the pros and cons of using each voice.
The third week, dubbed “great expectations,” was geared towards having students determine their personal goals, identify people in their support system—their schools, families and communities—and the expectations they have for their networks. Additionally, they were given the opportunity to express their opinions about great leadership, maturity and accountability. During the session, students presented to mentors and peers on what they expected from their networks so that they could reach their personal academic goals.
The last meeting of the month had students reflect on all they learned over the month and gave them the stage to present on their future planning and college goals, as well as the role of community, school and family in their lives. Reflecting on the month of programming, Alstenia Smith-Sellers, coordinator of the Beulah Rising Stars Gavel Club, was excited about the opportunity for the young people to express themselves as advocates:
“Young people are the voices of our community today. We must help prepare them to articulate their thoughts clearly and with conviction. With the continued support of Dr. Stewart and her educational sessions, we help set the stage for their success.”
I will continue to identify and present this training to other organizations and families in the Dekalb County area in the coming months, partnering with groups who support the nurturing of young leaders and educational advocates in order to promote the importance of academic excellence in our community.
Beulah Rising Stars Gavel Club is a club affiliated with Toastmasters International, a 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.