An example from the front lines

A tenth-grader gains new insight on her suspension experience

cropped-alphaItzel, along with other young people, educators, families and community members, are gathered at the launching event of the Solutions Not Suspensions campaign led by Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth in San francisco. Like other organizations in this study, Coleman is holding a community-wide event where where young people are encouraged to collectively reflect on and share on their community experiences and insights. This is an account from our on-site researcher.

Itzel came up to the front of the room and introduced herself as a 10th grader at Brenner High. She begins to share her of a suspension from school the day after “eating another student’s cupcakes.” She was pulled into the principal’s office and told to leave the school because she was suspended. She was confused about the suspension. As it turns out, she ate a cupcake intended for her classmate’s birthday. Itzel added that she didn’t know she had been suspended the day of or the day after that because no one had told her or called her home. She added that she felt “stupid and embarrassed…that she didn’t belong” at the school.

After several suspensions, Itzel didn’t see the point of school. So she stopped going.

As she continued sharing the details of her experience and how it made her feel, she teared up, turned around, covered her face with the sleeves of her hoodie, and began to sob. Christina (an adult member of Coleman’s staff) walked up and gave her a hug, gently rubbing her hand on Itzel’s shoulders and upper back until she regained composure. The room became silent as Itzel sobbed, and Keanu (another staffer) yelled out “Deep breath Itzel! You got this!” After a short pause, she turned around and continued to talk in a much stronger tone about her anger and frustration. She mentioned that after several suspensions she didn’t see the point of school so she stopped going. She began to believe that she really wasn’t a good student.

Once Itzel joined a youth organizing group, she began to realize that schools weren’t just being unfair to her — they were being unfair to many students of color.

She said it wasn’t until later in her involvement with Coleman Advocates that she began to realize that schools weren’t just being unfair to her, but they were being unfair to many students of color. Itzel concluded by saying that “schools need to change their policies and treatment of students, otherwise they risk pushing them out of schools.” When Itzel finished, the people in the audience clapped and Khalil (an adult staff member) walked to the front and thanked Itzel for sharing her testimony.

 

Note: All names used to identify young people on this website are pseudonyms

 

Critical Thinking and Analysis

Youth organizing presents myriad opportunities for young people to interpret, examine and analyze their personal experiences and their shared experiences with other marginalized communities. Young people also learn about the systems that impact their lives on a daily basis. Findings from our study show that youth organizers developed an awareness and understanding of the workings of social and political systems and how they can can gain access and influence to enact social change.

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Community Leadership And Action

Across the globe we observed efforts by young people to change policies that directly affected their lives. Through working on these campaigns and broader social movements young people developed and practiced a range of leadership and organizing skills.

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Social And Emotional Learning

Through their organizing work young people develop the skills they need to transform emotions into assets. Youth learn to channel their emotions into constructive action, maintain their composure, and stay focused on their goals—even when faced with difficult emotions like anger, anxiety, frustration, demoralization, and sadness.

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