Oct. 6, 2016

WSE Youth Forum 2016

Youth at center of dialogue
Youth Forum
Youth Forum

What’s going on with kids these days?

That’s a question for the ages, and it frequently seems to be asked—and answered-- by adults.

But how often do we actually go to the source—to young people themselves—and ask them what challenges they face, day in, day out, and beyond that, what ideas they might have to affect change?

At the end of September, the Werklund School of Education hosted a pair of events that brought this conversation to the fore. 

“Youth engagement is a way to develop a strengths-based empowering approach towards addressing issues, problems, and challenges that impact communities.” - Shirley Steinberg

First, Shirley Steinberg, a Werklund School research professor who focuses on critical youth studies, delivered the Annual Distinguished Research Lecture, in which she argued that while there are conversations regarding youth taking place all over the world, rarely are the youth themselves called on as participants in the discussions. Steinberg challenged the audience to speak “with” youth, rather than “at” them—and to listen, and to really hear, what they have to say.

And that’s exactly what happened the following day when 140 students, teachers and community members came together for a half day forum focused on listening to youth as they identified and discussed the challenges they face in everyday life—both in and out of school--and then developed ideas on how they might take charge and create change for themselves and their peers.

“Youth are central to any conversation that involves identifying challenges faced by today’s youth and transforming their social impact ideas into actionable projects,” explains Sharon Friesen, vice dean in the Werklund School. 

“Youth engagement is a way to develop a strengths-based empowering approach towards addressing issues, problems, and challenges that impact communities.”

The forum opened with two exceptional youth speakers, Makda Habtergergesa and Brent Rothery, both current UCalgary students who spoke of their own personal challenges—Makda’s as an immigrant to Canada and Brent’s challenges with mental health—and how each overcome obstacles to achieve success for themselves and others.

Then, working at tables made up of students, teachers, Werklund School undergraduate students (pre-service teachers) and academic and support staff and community partners, the groups addressed the question: What do you think are some of the issues, problems and/or challenges facing youth? The students were then asked to represent their tables in putting their ideas on paper and sharing what came up as the key discussion points in their groups.

Some of their answers were expected—bullying/cyberbullying, peer pressure, academic achievement, family issues. Others—financial worries, identity issues, mental health, and the pressure to grow up—were the sort of concerns only someone living the experience could explain and share.

Following lunch, the tables were asked a second question: How can you take action? And they were asked to think of something they could undertake someday that could make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. Once again, the students took control of the discussion and talked about how they might go about creating initiatives that would tackle some of the challenges they face.

In closing the afternoon, Sharon Friesen asked the students to take their “someday” ideas and make them “Monday” ideas—to seize the momentum and enthusiasm of the forum and to take their plans back to their school and their classmates, and to be the catalyst for change.

“We, at the Werklund School of Education, will be connecting with each of the 20 schools that participated in this Youth Forum to offer support as they enact their plans for the year,” says Friesen. 

“The teams of youth and their sponsoring teacher will be invited back to the University of Calgary in Spring 2017 to showcase their initiatives.”

Note: Click here for the audio file of the Distinguished Research lecture by Shirley Steinberg; in the meantime, other Distinguished Lectures can be found on the Werklund website.