As NYLC celebrates its 35th anniversary, we reconnect with people who have come through our doors, and follow the paths they’ve taken.
Reported by Barbara Rice, NYLC Encore Fellow, Hamline University; written by Maddy Wegner, NYLC
Merrit Jones, a college sophomore at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, spends her extracurricular time as the Executive Director of Student Voice. This work is a natural outgrowth of both her gap year interviewing young people across the country about their educational experiences, and her time at the National Youth Leadership Training.
“My week with NYLC in Minnesota the summer of 2015 was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had to date,” she says. “It was really in that week that I learned what youth voice was and discovered my passion for it.”
Following her NYLT experience, she became a lead activist in NYLC’s Youth4Education program that raises awareness about and addresses educational inequities. “It was at that investigative stage where we really spent time digesting and thinking about questions like ‘Why do we do this work?”
She joined the Student Voice team after having founded Student Space, when she noticed disparities among South Carolina schools and the lack of students in the conversation.
Fast forward to 2018, when student voice is no longer a notion languishing in middle and high school English classes. As the Student Voice tagline reads, “The movement is live,” and Merrit says that “It’s my passion project and it all started with my work with NYLC.”
Now, as she works nationally to “aggregate, amplify, and accelerate” youth voice she says that she is often asking herself, “What is at the heart of this?” She is also cognizant of the research that is critical to this phase of service-learning, seeking to understand what currently exists and how it can be improved. “The process of service-learning is very present in my work today,” she says.
“We’re working with young people to equip them with tools they need to empower their own education,” developing “student-centric” and “student-created” solutions to inequities in the American education system.
In addition to service-learning processes, the people of NYLC stay with Merrit. “The staff and the facilitators and other students I was there with have been hugely inspirational in my life … They are motivated and excited to impact their communities and the world around them.”
In short, “NYLT was hugely influential in the work that I’m doing now; it was the starting point,” says Merrit.
(Become a Student Voice ambassador! Applications due Sun., July 15, 2018!)