Hearing Youth Voices, a youth-led social justice organization working to create systemic change in the education system in New London, is one of seven youth organizations in New England with a chance to win a $50,000 grant from The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in the region focused exclusively on education. The first-ever Nellie Mae Education Foundation Youth Organizing Award honors a New England youth organizing group that has shown tremendous commitment to advancing student-centered learning or redesigning education to meet the needs of all students - specifically focused on public secondary education.
At Hearing Youth Voices (HYV), youth leaders identify issues, research solutions, and run campaigns aimed at making concrete, meaningful changes in their public schools. The core membership and leadership are working class youth of color, many of whom are also LGBTQI, and/or immigrant, and/or have been pushed out of school.
The winner from among the finalists will be decided by online votes of the public, during a month of balloting. From November 1 at 12:00 PM EST – November 30 at 12:00 PM EST, the public is invited to vote for finalists through email on the Students at the Center Hub and via text message. The organization with the most votes will receive a $50,000 grant to continue the organization's work around advancing student-centered learning or redesigning education to meet the needs of all students.
Hearing Youth Voices describes itself as “a youth-led organization that trains young people of color to organize, fight, and deconstruct systems of oppression in our community.” Recently, HYV youth ran the “We Want to Graduate Campaign,” which focused on systemic obstacles to students graduating, specifically absence-based credit loss and suspensions.
After two years of hard work on the part of hundreds of youth, the New London Public Schools (NLPS) revised its attendance policy to offer supportive interventions instead of punishments for absent students, a change that affected the more than 3,000 students and families in NLPS. Additionally, HYV youth worked alongside a broader coalition of parent advocates, school staff, and Board of Education members to create the district's first-ever Restorative Practices pilot project.
Most recently, HYV successfully advocated for students to become voting members of the Board of Education's Policy Committee, integrating student voice into the highest level of policy decision-making in the district. Youth leaders identify issues, research solutions, and run campaigns aimed at making concrete, meaningful changes in their public schools.
“Our seven Youth Organizing Award finalists are leaders in promoting student ownership and voice as part of school decision-making in New England,” said Nick Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. “These students have committed themselves to improving educational experiences for their peers while building the knowledge and skills which will serve them long after graduation. I’m proud to offer a well-deserved congratulations on the great work they’ve achieved as well as the impact they are making for future students.”
In a student-centered environment, learning is personalized, competency-based, happens anytime, anywhere and allows students to take ownership of their education. Student-centered learning prepares students to master the academic knowledge, critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills they need to thrive.
Also vying for the prize are Portland Empowered (Maine), Sociedad Latina (Boston), Granite State Organizing Project (New Hampshire), Young Voices (Providence), Providence Student Union (Providence), and UP for Learning (Vermont).
The HYV website explains that “our work is different- it is about collective action to solve systemic problems. We don't want to make life easier for one young person or one family. We want to go right down to the root of the problem and fix the system so that no more youth and families have that problem! And we believe that the people who have lived the problem are experts on it and need to help define what the solution could be.......and lead the charge to make that change happen.”
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation supports the promotion and integration of student-centered approaches to learning at the high school level across New England—where learning is personalized; learning is competency-based; learning takes place anytime, anywhere; and students exert ownership over their own learning. To elevate student-centered approaches, the Foundation utilizes a four-part strategy that focuses on: building educator ownership, understanding and capacity; advancing quality and rigor of SCL practices; developing effective systems designs; and building public understanding and demand.