Saturday, April 10, 2010

Three Days Listening to Youth

For the last three days, I have been attending the Canadian Underserved Youth Forum,  hosted by YOUCAN and funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Youth delegates from all across Canada were flown into Edmonton to discuss a variety of topics. Policy-makers were also supposed to be there to listen and help formulate next steps and policy implications to better serve youth and move us forward as a nation, as provinces and as cities. As I looked around the room, I saw very few policy-makers. I was the only trustee. There were no councillors and no MLAs. What a tremendous opportunity those politicians missed.

I was in the group discussing the many issues around being "out of school and out of work". The youth in my circle were largely high school drop-outs and several are now involved with YOUCAN. They had a lot to say about why school didn't or doesn't work for them. I took copious notes and I will be sharing this information with my board and administration. I have long felt that if we are ever going to improve our high school completion rates in a meaningful and sustainable manner, we NEED to start listening to the youth who are walking (or being forced) out the door. We need to connect with homeless youth, addicted youth, abused and neglected youth, isolated youth and kids involved in gang activity. We need to change policy to make things WORK for these kids. Currently, only 65% of our kids who enter grade 10, graduate three years later in grade 12.  35% don't. That's just unacceptable. Some of those who leave do come back and complete high school later, bringing our 5 year completion rate up to 75%. But still, to me, that leaves 25% who never complete high school.  The kids in my circle had a lot of advice on how to change that stat and I think they are the ones who should know.

Other groups focused on: mental health, street-involved youth, addictions, homophobia, youth in care and some more topics that I'm forgetting right now.

The keynote speakers/ presenters at each meal-time were outstanding:
John Stapleton- 30 years experience with the government, giving advice on how to create policy and influence policy (gold!),
Andree Cazabon screened her new film, "3rd World in Canada", highlighting the appalling conditions of the Aboriginal people in northern Ontario (this should be seen by every student, every adult in Canada!)
Kathy Hutchinson (Walking After Midnight author) talking about redemption, forgiveness, restorative justice and the dangers of mob mentality,
Jeremy from Jer's Vision and Day of Pink- who won the first human rights case when he sued his school for failing to prevent homophobic bullying,
Oni the Haitian Sensation who introduced me to slam poetry for action/change,
and a video on youth homelessness in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia put together by some youth, which compelled their Mayor to act.

I was moved, inspired, angered and compelled to move forward on youth issues. This may well set the course of my life for the next while. Connecting with youth who had been written off by so many people, who had been involved with gangs or drugs, who had survived incredible abuse/neglect/sorrow/bullying or cruelty, who had never been made to feel valuable and who, despite all that, still want to make a positive change in the world..... this is powerful stuff.

I wish more politicians could have experienced it. I intend to work with these youth to bring the message forward. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Laura Servage, MEd, said...

Feel free to post more on what you heard at this Sue! I'd love to read it.