Our Position

We want to live in a world where every student has a role in creating the culturally and cognitively appropriate tools and support they need to pursue their dreams and talents. In this world, teachers, counsellors and administrators are highly trained, highly valued, and deeply invested in building school communities that center whole person learning – and wellbeing! – for each student.

Because the education of our youth is among the highest priorities in this world, there are abundant resources to meet all the learning needs of each student. Students have access to the best equipment and technology. Broadband is available to everyone. Environments at school and at home are set up to support learning – which means, first and foremost, that youth have stable housing, parents/caretakers can make living wages, and all other family members are well-cared for. 

Social-emotional learning through strong, trusting, intentional relationships – peer-to-peer and teacher-student – fosters a deep sense of belonging. Youth feel safe to share their experiences and ideas with others in their school community, counsellors are always available, and mental health support is built into school routines, including mindfulness practices and quiet spaces to process. Language for describing emotions – and strategies for regulating them – are integrated into everyday conversations.

Classes are small so that teachers can attend to each student and their unique learning style. Content is engaging, fun and includes multiple perspectives that help youth explore their own identities, and understand and appreciate the many cultures that make up their communities. Curricula shares an accurate, unflinching version of U.S. history, so that youth know how we got here, how we can begin to repair the damage, and how we can avoid repeating harm. It is also designed to prepare youth for life, with courses on job skills, taxes, civic engagement, trades, and navigating college – which is free to all youth who want to attend.

Most importantly, schools draw on youth resilience, brilliance and resourcefulness by partnering with students to ensure that systems continue to provide the education that young people want and deserve. Student Advocacy Councils exist for all grade levels, and youth sit at the decision-making table with school districts, City Councils and County Supervisors as school systems continually evolve to meet youth needs.

The Issue

Education is a reflection of, and often perpetuates, the oppressive systems that exist in the United States. The vast disparities among schools – in resources, in teacher training and compensation, in courses and content – mirror the disparities between white communities and communities of color, and rural and urban areas. Course content offers a single narrative about the world that reflects and sustains the position of those in power. 

Without the tools to support social-emotional learning, identity formation and cultural competence, peer pressure to assimilate to certain “right” ways of being is enormous. Stereotypes and status symbols leave youth feeling disconnected and alienated, and often the targets of bullying and harassment. Providing few life skills and trades courses, school systems put pressure on youth to attend college – or funnel them to prison through exclusionary punishments. School counselors and mental health resources to help youth cope with these pressures are scarce, and Student Resource Officers target youth of color and young people struggling with mental health issues. 

In 2020, COVID-19 only exacerbated underlying disparities in education. Since the digital age began, youth in rural areas have struggled to fulfill assignments that require internet access. With shelter-in-place orders, these youth struggled to attend school at all. Many low-income youth lack the technological equipment and skills that affluent youth take for granted. The burden of contributing to the family income and caring for younger siblings only increased in the pandemic, and living in close quarters with family members made concentrating on online classes only that much more challenging. 

“When you have siblings, you can’t just help yourself, you also have to help them. I help my little cousins, and sometimes I have to stop during class. And we don’t have enough internet for everyone in the house who needs it.”

Most importantly, students have little say in designing the systems – curriculum, teaching methods, staffing, discipline, and scheduling, among other components – in which they spend most of their waking hours, and which fundamentally shape them as they grow into adulthood. Even when opportunities are available for youth to provide input – like youth commissions and student advisory councils – adults struggle to get past their assumptions about youth and listen deeply to youth voice, especially when they bring up issues that challenge the status quo. 

“At the school board meeting, it was really clear that the adult board members were comfortable with certain kinds of updates – they expected the youth board members to talk about dances, the PTA. But when the youth started bringing up deeper issues, like racial justice, the supervisors didn’t want to talk about it and actively shut down the conversation.”

Young people are often hand-picked for these kinds of positions, favoring youth who come from privilege and/or can “code switch” – who look like little adults in their dress, speech and manner. Few spaces where decisions are made are youth-friendly.

“I felt like I didn’t belong there, and I was afraid to speak because I didn’t have the right words.”

Our Strategies

Timeline of Wins in Education Justice

May 13, 2019 · 

First Madera Youth Commission Sworn In

On April 3rd, 5 young people were officially sworn-in to serve on the very first term of the newly established City-Wide Youth Commission. This is an historic moment in the history of the City of Madera, demonstrating City Hall’s commitment to including youth at the decision-making table.

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February 27, 2019 · 

Walking our Paths: We’Ced Releases its 7th Youth-Led Publication

In January 2019, the Merced Sun-Star delivered copies of Walking our Paths to communities across the county. This is We’Ced Youth Media’s 7th such publication, featuring the stories of young people, but with a very special twist. The entire publication was produced by the young people themselves.

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December 14, 2018 · 

Youth Win ‘Cultivators of Change’ Award

BHC Merced awarded two ‘Cultivators of Change’ awards to YLI young people. First, We’Ced Youth Media was recognized for their part in leading the Trans Day of Remembrance + Trans & Intersex Rights March Merced which was the first ever in Merced County. Girls and Womyn of Color were also awarded the prize because of … Continued

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