Alexander Cho and other participatory observers of a high-quality after school digital media program discovered that youth who were some of the most engaged and committed to the program also began to shrink from school obligations and abandon plans for attending college.
For these young people, the future was vague and uncertain "due in large part to lack of family financial resources and the absence of an intuitive post-secondary roadmap." In short, they were unable to connect the 21st century skills they were gaining in the program to future possibility, such as higher education or career options.
To me, this dissonance between the learning environment and the future of these youth points to the vital importance of helping young people connect WHAT they are learning to what they can DO with that learning.
In a white paper that my fellow blogger Trudy Dunham cited recently Henry Jenkins et al claim that "a focus on expanding access to new technologies carries us only so far if we do not also foster the skills and cultural knowledge necessary to deploy those tools toward our own ends."
Here in the Urban Youth Development Office, we've named this as the critical issue driving our business plan -- the need of youth, particularly those from low-income communities, to learn how to overcome economic, educational, and social barriers in order to connect their skills and interests to possibilities for their futures and build their potential to author their own lives. Our strategic goal is more about welcoming youth into a culture of possibility than engaging them in a youth program on digital media or entrepreneurship.
One of our clubs is focused on media production, and while the youth love and are deeply engaged in the content they are learning, the depth of their experience depends on our staff, volunteers, and mentors, who are constantly helping them reflect on what it is that they're really getting out of the experience. They take the youth to campuses, help them fill out financial aid packets, and guide them on getting into college. They are, in the words of Cho, helping youth "frame and mobilize these skills to their own advantage."
How can we help youth go beyond even deep engagement in content or participation in a program or activity? How do you address that issue? Are there other aspects of youth programming that we all intuitively know, but that somehow are continually missed or undervalued?