By: Kit Faiella, Policy Fellow
On April 6, 2018 the Aspen Institute hosted the launch of the “Youth and Family Calls to Action,” which are ambitious goals and demands emanating from the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. The National Commission’s goal is to explore how to make social, emotional, and academic development part of the fabric of every school by drawing from research and promising practices.
To usher in the launch of the Calls to Action, the Aspen Institute brought in students, parents, and teachers, who were all members of the National Commission, to discuss the thinking behind these goals and the relevance of them in today’s educational landscape. Tim Shriver (Co-Founder and Chair of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) set the tone of the morning by asking guests to imagine transforming the country by fighting the pervasive negativity and apathy through education. He said that through grassroots efforts, and conversations like these, change could come. His words were echoed by panelists who discussed the importance of realigning education to meet 21st Century needs.
The first panel consisted of one high school student (Grace Dolan-Sandrino, from DCPS Duke Ellington School of the Arts), one freshman college student (Eric Guerci, from Princeton University), two parents (from New York and Michigan), and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. The discussion opened with how the panel envisioned connecting the education system to the workforce, and overwhelming agreement centered on teaching students to be both “street smart” and “book smart,” focusing on social-emotional development and life skills in addition to academics.
Other interesting topics the panel covered were compulsory community service for students, drug and safety issues within schools, and nutrition in schools. Community service hours have been an important topic of discussion in our High School Graduation requirements task force, and the SBOE has spoken with students across the city on the impact of the 100 hours they need to volunteer in order to graduate. Panelists supported community service for students: it helps develop empathy, encourages people of different backgrounds to work together, and creates dialogue. The speakers debated, however, whether students would truly reap the benefits of community service if it was compulsory.
On drug and safety issues, many of the panelists echoed what we have heard in previous discussions across DC about restorative justice programs. A member of the second panel said that kids who are emotionally distressed either “talk out, act out, or get out” – students cannot “get out” of school, so they resort to other means such as drugs or acting out when they are unable to cope with their emotions.
The second panel brought together leaders within education: a school principal from Nevada, the head of a charter network in Chicago, a senior vice president at the Boys & Girls Clubs, and a co-founder for the Forum for Youth Investment. Each panlist presented thought-provoking insights, and many guests in the room (myself included) were particularly impressed with Karen Pittman, the co-founder of The Forum for Youth Investment, and Shayne Evans, the Founder of The Academy Group, a Chicago charter network. Ms. Pittman shared the thought-provoking comment about students “talking out, acting out, or getting out” of schools, and Mr. Evans won the crowd over by referencing the movie Black Panther. Mr. Evans also shared an example of how data can be leveraged to drive grassroots changes: a few years ago Chicago Public Schools (CPS) shared a report about the importance of attendance and academics in 9th grade with 9th grade parents, and CPS saw their graduation rate dramatically increase. At the end of the discussion, Mr. Evans left the audience with a thought to ponder about school safety; in addition to physical security, children need intellectual and ambition safety: without a supportive environment that enables children to dream, they can’t live up to the full potential which he emphasized exists within every student.
If you’d like to learn more, and view the Youth and Family Calls to action, they can be viewed on the Aspen Institute’s website.