On Saturday, March 25, 2017, two progressive organizations were at Norfolk’s Booker T. Washington High School for a program highlighting dialogue on education issues from youth perspectives.
XQ Institute, an organization dedicated to rethinking high school in America, and Youth Speaks, the convener of the Brave New Voices Network and the country’s leading youth spoken word and literary arts organization, presented Brave New Voices #RethinkHighSchool 2017. The Norfolk program was part of a 20-city tour.
Local representation included the young people of Teens With a Purpose who hosted a performance and panel highlighting key issues in education in Norfolk and Hampton Roads as the opening event for 11th Annual PHAT Conference.
Rethink High School is designed to provide the opportunity for current, and recently graduated high school students to give their input on how to make high school better.
Young people in attendance reimagined school and spoke out and were heard by other students, teachers, administrators, legislators, community leaders and youth in Norfolk and from all around the country. “In history, the architects of transformation have always been the young. #RETHINKHIGHSCHOOL is their united blueprint for change,” said Deirdre Love, Executive Director of Teens With a Purpose.
A youth poet, Devon “Imagine” Carter of Maury High School, identified the suspensions rate and referrals to law enforcement agencies as one of the areas that need rectification. U.S. Department of Education data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity show that Virginia schools in a single year referred students to law enforcement agencies at a rate nearly three times the national rate.
Earlier in March, Teens With a Purpose, conducted writing workshops for Juveniles in the Norfolk Detention Center. Their voices and poems were produced and performed so they too were a part of the conversation.
The teen town hall gave youth the ability to address the issues, but equally important, reimagine high school in a way that is innovative and specific to this community’s needs. A panel comprised of both youth and adults were asked to respond to the poems with one question in mind – What are you going to do about it? Panelists included Delegate Daun Hester, Michael Berlucchi – Community Engagement, The Chrysler Museum & President, Hampton Roads Pride, Dr. Ronald Holloman – Assistant Principal, Hampton City Schools, Tamele Hobson – Lawyer and students from Norfolk, Suffolk and Chesapeake.
Some suggestions that were made include building community gardens on vacant city lots to improve the quality of the food provided to students, eliminating Study Packets, including more current events and history classes that reflect the student populations and providing more student feedback to the administration.
The 20-city tour began in Washington, DC and traveled to Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA and New York, NY. before its stop in Norfolk. It will continue through June 2017 in the following cities and is open to the public and press: Baton Rouge, LA, St. Louis, MO, Boston, MA, Flint, MI, Tucson, AZ, Des Moines, IA, Nashville, TN, Houston, TX, Sacramento, CA, Asheville, N.C., Lancaster, PA, and Seattle, WA.