Educators, policymakers and other adults grapple nonstop with the educational and social issues that affect youth. But gone are the days when adults can do this job alone — without engaging and learning from the experiences and insights of young people who are, after all, the ones most directly affected.
Two UCLA professors from the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies are turning the old paradigm on its head by engaging young people in research on school and community issues that directly affect them and their peers and then learning from them.
John Rogers and Ernest Morrell have spent a decade studying youth engagement in their communities, pursuing answers to such questions as what educational supports do youths require to become contributing members of society both as teens and adults. What do young people actually learn that serves them well throughout their schooling, work and civic lives? Does their participation matter to their peers or to their communities? To put it bluntly, does anyone pay attention or care?
With these and other questions in mind, Rogers and Morrell, both from UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA), and their community partners have founded the Council of Youth Research to study issues that affect them. Now in its second year, the council consists of 26 students from Wilson, Roosevelt, Cleveland, Locke and Manual Arts high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). High school teachers, university faculty and community members assist the council in many ways. And the Council works closely with LAUSD administrators, as well as the office of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
On Feb. 6, students presented their findings on what forms of teaching and learning Los Angeles youth need to become powerful civic agents the Council. They presented their recent research findings to more than 100 students, parents, teachers, school administrators and community members.
Students illuminated the findings (which included results from a teacher survey) with candid observations about conditions in their schools.
Highlights drawn from the research findings include:
• 60% of teachers feel that they receive little support for dealing with urban school conditions (death, drugs, graffiti, gangs, poverty).
• While 99.5% of teachers express ambitious goals for their students, 63.3% of them believe that they do not have appropriate class sizes to be successful with all of their students.
• Although the majority (75.3%) of teachers feel they have the freedom to teach in a manner that promotes powerful learning, only 37.8% of them use weekly or daily lessons that encourage students to act on community issues.
Three key education officials responded to the presentation – Luis Sanchez, chief of staff of LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia; Omar Del Cueto, executive director of LAUSD’s iDesign Schools Division; and Steve Barr, chairman of Green Dot Public Schools. Green Dot started administering Locke High School last fall.
Commenting on the students’ claim that there are teachers who simply don’t care, Barr said, “Locke has had those teachers for too long, and it can’t happen any longer.”
In discussion, student participants looked deeply into the school structures that limit their participation and achievement. “We need smaller class sizes," one student commented. "It’s hard to approach teachers. Smaller class sizes will give teachers more of an opportunity to develop those relationships.”
Another student responded to the oft-heard belief that students don't take advantage of the many programs and opportunities that schools offer. “We need teachers to believe in us,” the student said, pointing out that some programs are restricted to students with a certain GPA.
Highlighting the importance of the students’ findings, Sanchez invited the students to present their research to School Board President Monica Garcia.
An outgrowth of Rogers’ and Morrell’s youth research project which brings youth to UCLA for summer research seminars, the Council of Youth Research will continue to do research throughout the school year. Their findings are also reported to the mayor and released to the public. For more information on the Council of Youth Research, contact Maribel Santiago.