“Neighborhood schools are the cornerstone of what that [community] is,” said Phenom, a Hip Hop Activist, to start off the first ever Youth Conference held by Generation All.
Generation All’s executive director Beatriz Ponce De Leon explained to the audience the root cause of Generation All’s purpose: “In our city we’ve put emphasis on more school choices, instead of bettering the schools we already have. We need to improve the existing neighborhood schools.”
Many organizations and students came together on June 16 for the inaugural Generation All Youth Conference at Columbia College’s Film Row. to recollect their communal voice, celebrate the end of a successful school year, and most importantly to learn new skills on how to make their schools and communities better for the following year.
The Youth Conference included a number of interesting workshop sessions that instructed the students on how to further improve their schools. A variety of organizations presented information about their movements and ideas:
- Generation All’s Youth Council: How to Change the Stigma of Your Neighborhood High School
- Fighting Youth Shouting Out for Humanity: Decolonizing the CPS Curriculum
- Heather van Benthuysen, CPS Dept. of Social Science & Civic Engagement: Don’t talk about it, be about: How to Build Student Voice at your School
- Communities United: Know Your Rights
- Uplift Community High School: From Columbus Day (Miseducation) to Indigenous Peoples Day (Liberation)
Students came out of the workshop with new insights and enthusiasm to implement what they had just learned. Tamia Kidd, Bronzeville Scholastic Academy student, said she “always knew there were problems in CPS and that many schools had faced inequality, but I didn’t understand [just how]those problems affected our community so much. Now, I know and have a complete understanding as to what kids like the youth council are fighting for.” After the workshops, Tamia came out wanting “to improve the school environment and the community” by attending “school meetings, talking to the principal, and finding new ways to improve the school system.” Tamia was just one of the many students that left the Conference with a renewed drive to improve the existing system.
Workshop facilitators were also very pleased with the responsiveness of the students. Donald Davis, CPS graduate, parent, and teacher, praised the Youth Conference for “encouraging youth to be advocates for change by ‘raising their voices’ and being leaders.” Heather van Benthuysen’s message of creating a communal student voice for schools resonated well with students as they came out of her workshop convinced every school needed a student voice committee. Van Benthuysen was excited to attend and host more workshops in cooperation with Generation All.
Throughout the Conference attendees were invited to write on a gallery chalk -wall describing what they loved about their schools and what Chicago could do to improve their neighborhood schools. Common answers to what students loved were unsurprising inspiring: students love the human-aspect of their schools. Students adore their teachers, the diversity of their schools, their sense of community and school spirit, and also their specialized IB-programs. When asked how the city can further improve their education, students replied with a multitude of answers. From the students’ responses, it was clear that they felt a lack of mutual understanding and communication with administrators. Many students wrote in bold letters “Listen to the Students!” on the chalk wall. Even more students felt the absence of resources. Some responses included: “Fund our school please!”, “Fund restorative justice programs!” and “#FREEFARE [from the C.T.A.]”.
Guests were also treated to dinner from Taqueria Los Comales and performances by Phenom and DJ Clent. Following the break, guests were invited into the auditorium to watch a video from Generation All’s Youth Council on the perceptions of neighborhood public high schools in Chicago. The program then concluded with more dessert and refreshments and a dance party hosted by DJ Clent and Phenom.
Nayla Hale, a Generation All Youth Council Member, summed up the conference best when she said, “We want to promote loving your school,” a sentiment confirmed and echoed by many attendees.