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Youth Voice is Key to Spark Effective Change

Last week, nearly 70 students from four states visited the U.S. Department of Education, and inspired ED staff to improve the education system in America to work for all students. These students were anything but diffident, for they came prepared to ask questions, all curious to know what the federal government’s role is in education.

Each group of students shared the uniqueness of their programs and the challenges they face in their schools. These students exhibited determination, optimism, civic engagement and forward thinking. They let us know that their voices are the key to spark effective change.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks with students from Fort Bend, TX Independent School District. Secretary DeVos is standing and the students are seated.Fort Bend ISD of Texas

The quality of education in Fort Bend County has long been a driving force to attract families to the area. Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD) is Texas’ seventh largest with approximately 74,500 students and one of the most diverse in the nation.

FBISD currently has 78 campuses: 11 high schools, 14 middle schools, 50 elementary campuses and three unique secondary campuses to address the academic and vocational interests of students. These high school leaders met with ED staff to discuss the role of the Department in supporting states’ efforts to provide high-quality educational opportunities and gain an understanding of the role they, as students, play. After our session, the Fort Bend students recommended that the Department highlight more youth engagement events through our communications media.

A group of community college students and an ED official stand in front of the U.S. and Department flags.Maricopa Community Colleges

Maricopa, Arizona Community Colleges’ Student Public Policy Forum (SPFF) is an academic program that provides an overview of local, state and national public policy making, and citizen influence and involvement. It places a focus on experiential learning and leadership development through engagement in the public policy process.

Maricopa Community Colleges comprise one of the largest community college districts in the nation. Students met with ED staff to discuss higher education issues, CTE accessibility and education choice. This session provided an opportunity for staff to meet directly with students who are actively working to achieve their higher education goals while studying to become more informed and engaged citizens.

Youth from March On: Montgomery to D.C. stand with the Secretary of Education in from of the U.S. and Department flags.March On: Montgomery to D.C.

March On: Montgomery to DC is an opportunity for students to travel from Montgomery, Alabama to Washington, D.C. to hear from leaders and professionals about how to achieve their college and career goals. The purpose of the trip is to expose the students to leaders, institutions and universities in D.C. and then empower the students to achieve their goals by building off of the advice they receive through access to internships and mentorship in Montgomery.

The students carried on the spirit of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery by fighting for equal opportunity in their own lives and in their communities. Students shared their personal stories with ED staff and expressed some of the challenges they face in their local schools. They encouraged staff to continue to spotlight innovative practices across the country to spark change.

Students from the Caldwell, ID Mayor's Youth Advisory Council stand in front of the ED seal.Caldwell Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council

The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, or MYAC, provides the youth of Caldwell, Idaho an opportunity to voice their opinions and share a role in the decision-making process. The council strives to empower youth in their community by getting them involved in community service. MYAC also offers students incredible learning experiences through local work and travel experiences.

The Council is comprised of student representatives from Caldwell High School, Canyon Springs High School, Ridgeview High School, Vallivue High School, Skyview High School and Thomas Jefferson Charter School. These student leaders presented their white paper on “The Decline of Education in America,” and presented solutions to fix the problems they saw occurring in their local schools.

Excerpt from the white paper:

As the Caldwell Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, we see every day, a lack of valuable education in our high schools. Many teachers are advised that graduating students is preferable to the school than having their students retain skills and knowledge, because if students fail the majority of their classes it will reflect poorly on the school. It has resulted in numerous cases of grade inflation, causing students who are on a C or lower average, to earn A’s on their class work. This allows students to have a higher GPA and appear more capable and more knowledgeable than they actually are. While this seems positive for the student, these destructive methods of education push students to continue into classes that they are incapable of thriving in. The vicious cycle of students not being capable and teachers passing them, leaves students incompetent in their academic abilities and not prepared for higher education. As students graduate and are admitted into college, 41% of our students in Idaho are required to take remedial college courses to fill the holes in their high school education.

The U.S. Department of Education is proud to host students all year round. For more information on arranging a visit with your youth group please contact Sam Ryan, Youth Engagement Coordinator, at [email protected].


Denisha Merriweather is a Confidential Assistant in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

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