Teen Voices: “What We Need to Succeed”

Engagement of student voice, ideas, and actions is critical to addressing the high school dropout crisis, and creating opportunities for success for ALL young people in our communities. Recently, a panel of students – including those currently in high school, students who have graduated, and students who had previously dropped out and are now re-engaged – turned the tables and spoke to a group of community partners working to increase the rate of high school graduation, about what it takes to overcome obstacles and graduate high school.

Teens emphasized the positive impact that adults can have on their lives and encourage them to “keep bothering” students to stay on the right path.

Their reflections were open, honest, clear and powerful, and contain important reminders for the whole community as we join together to increase the number of students succeeding in high school.

“Relationships with adults matter.”
Multiple students spoke to the impact that adults can have – for better or for worse – on students.  While some students had support from their family, others did not.  For many, the support of an individual adult represented a turning point for them – helping them re-engage and get on the path to success. One student encouraged the room to “keep bothering” students about staying on the right path until they hear it, and connect them with others who have been successful in navigating challenges and making it through high school.

“The community that surrounds us matters.”
Students spoke to the challenge of persisting through high school when that is not the norm in their community.  Students described being the first in their family to graduate from high school, while other adults in their family were in prison or unemployed. Students spoke to being around peers who don’t necessarily motivate them, or have high expectations that they themselves will graduate. Students spoke about living in neighborhoods where it feels as if no one cares about whether they stay in school or not.  At the same time, students envisioned a community or neighborhood in which neighbors would ask students why they aren’t attending school, and encourage them to stick with it.

“Life challenges have an impact.”
Students spoke to the realities of real life situations: being a primary caretaker at home or holding a part-time job in order to support their family. One student remarked, “Everyone goes through something…some people go through more than others.  If a kid is leaving school…then something is wrong.” While students may be at a school for seven hours a day – what happens during the other 17 has a profound impact on their ability to be successful.

“Learning needs to be engaging and relevant.”
Students spoke to success, excitement, and engagement when educators found ways to make the curriculum relevant to real life, applicable to their learning styles, and connected to them.

“I can and want to give back.”
It was clear that these young people are motivated to succeed. Many spoke about their future aspirations, AND the role that they can play in keeping other students engaged and in school.

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