When I was a teenager it bugged me when adults passed over my ideas or didn't take my concerns seriously. It also annoyed me that there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to use my voice or challenge authority (respectfully). This is one of the reasons why WIT focuses so much on elevating and amplifying the teen voice.
WIT had a chance to do this recently in New York City. Thanks to Marymount School of New York, over 30 teens came together to “hack” the problems that are facing their East Harlem community. These teens selected four issues to tackle: Teen Mental Health, Financial Literacy, School Safety, and Education Inequity. Don Buckley, Entrepreneurship & Design Thinking faculty at Marymount, shared that he wanted this opportunity for the students because, “to solve complex problems, different points of view (POV) are necessary, one way to do this is to get people together from different backgrounds and by inviting students from outside the Marymount community we were able to achieve this.”
I thought it was interesting to see so many teens opt in for this Saturday event. I mean, weekends are precious and giving up a Saturday to work is pretty significant. I was curious to know why teens wanted to spend their afternoon “hacking”.
So, I asked.
Caroline Gordon shared with me that in her experience, “Teens do not get the same recognition for their ideas as adults.” She went on to ask, “How can adults expect to solve problems impacting teens without inviting the generation to the table?” Caroline pointed out that, “Teens have grit, creativity, and open-mindedness to do whatever it takes. We bring a unique perspective with innovative ideas waiting to be taught inside the classroom.” If it isn’t happening in the classroom it can happen at a hack!
There were others who agreed with Caroline. I heard from Hannah Yang who wants to encourage adults to bring teens to the table, “I think teens can bring new and creative ideas, as they certainly have opinions and can make decisions. Limiting ourselves to one particular group (age, ethnicity, gender, etc) limits our perception of issues and ignores the potential of many individuals.”
Lily Spero didn’t hesitate giving up her Saturday because the issues hit close to home, “The issue most important to me is teen mental health and I want to come up with ideas to solve it because I have witnessed many close friends including myself struggle with a variety of mental health issues, and I hope to have this pattern end with our generation. I think there has been a lot of talk around mental health, but no substantial action in which teens are involved in sharing what would fit best for them.”
Eric Walters, Director of STEM Education Marymount School of New York, got to witness the teens hard at work and was impressed by “the students’ motivation, curiosity, and determination. Each student felt personally connected to their issue, and, as a result, their passion for a solution and for change manifested itself in very palpable and inspiring ways. In some ways, the Hackathon wasn’t about the money or the college credit but about beginning journeys that brought the students through different neighborhoods of NYC, only to discover the universal challenges teenagers face on a daily basis. Just giving students the chance to talk about these challenges may, in fact, be their biggest takeaway.”
Stay tuned for more on this series of Bringing Teens To The Table. My next post will feature how teens felt after the hackathon.
Learn more about WIT summer classes HERE.