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Alumni Reflections: Merrit Jones, Student Voice Executive Director

Posted By NYLC, Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Updated: Saturday, August 4, 2018

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!)

Tags:  civic engagement  educational equity  featured  service-learning  student voice 

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Unleashing My Voice and Becoming an Advocate: A Story of Success, Failure, and Lessons Learned

Posted By NYLC, Friday, June 1, 2018
Updated: Saturday, August 4, 2018

by Ricky Yoo, Youth Advisory Council member

By listening and working with young people, we can get closer to creating the conditions that all young people need to have a real chance to succeed in school and life.

-John Gompert, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance

“You, French Fry. Me, Hamburger,” I proclaimed to my pre-K teacher. She gawked at me with awe. I stared blankly at her as she started to jump and holler, “Ricky! Yes! You, French Fry. Me, Hamburger!” I was stunned, and she, elated.

It was the first time I spoke a complete phrase to my teacher.

As a timid, young boy, my English was elementary and my social skills, even worse. Thus, I spent my words wisely, to persuade teachers to bring me food or request a toy of my choice from the treasure box. But much to the disappointment to me and my peers, my voice would remain buried throughout my adolescence.

Like many pre-teens, I struggled with social anxiety, and I secluded myself. My thoughts were dear to me and my own, and it would remain this way until my freshmen year of high school.

My voice came from humble origins – the bathroom mirror. While my mother disapproved of my loud orations, a toothbrush, a half-spent bar of soap, the allegedly tropical scent of hand wash, were all a familiar audience. Unfortunately, the congeniality of my toiletries starkly contrasted with the judgemental remarks of my classmates. Their mockery, I tolerated, but my feelings of inadequacy, I did not. With hours of practice and deliberation, the stuttering and mumbles were replaced with ferocity and power. Like the budding of a new relationship, I grew a fondness for public speaking. This would leak into different facets of my life.

I developed confidence in my role as a leader as more people began to listen to my voice. My inhibitions dissolved, and my social exposure procured an interest in leadership. The strength of my voice directly correlated with my ability to captivate my teammates, and, indirectly, manage them as well. Workshop and speaking engagement opportunities arose, and, with microphone in hand, I intended to advocate for youth voice.

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Tags:  afterschool  featured  Tags afterschool  Youth Advisory Council  youth leadership  youth voice  Youth4Education 

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Service-Learning in Civic Education = SLICE

Posted By NYLC, Thursday, May 10, 2018
Updated: Saturday, August 4, 2018

Service-learning as a teaching method for civic education is such a natural fit that some see the two terms as redundant. Democracies depend on voters with civic knowledge of history and government, and academic skills such as the ability to investigate, analyze, and deliberate about public issues. These skills, as well as the ability to work with others, grow through service-learning experiences.

So, with funding from United Parcel Service, NYLC has identified state-level service-learning coordinators in North Carolina and Georgia to work with K-12 teachers statewide who will develop, implement, and refine their own approaches to service-learning as a teaching method for civic engagement in a pilot program known as “SLICE.”

“We are excited to pilot the SLICE program in both Georgia and North Carolina,” said NYLC CEO Amy Meuers. “The program is designed to support educators and school leaders in engaging their students as active citizens while also developing the academic and 21st Century skills they need to succeed in college and career. The funding from UPS ensures that we can continue to support educators to successfully implement service-learning in classrooms.”

Through SLICE trainings mid-summer, teachers will learn NYLC’s backwards planning approach to developing units of study, rooted in the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. As educators implement and refine those units this fall, they will receive ongoing technical assistance from the two state-level service-learning coordinators who have  deep experiences in service-learning.

Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 3.58.39 PMJustyn Knox, a former middle school social studies teacher and instructional facilitator in Raleigh, N.C., will lead that state’s SLICE program. With a background in both project-based learning and character education, she currently consults with the state’s Department of Instruction, running student leadership institutes, “un-conferences” on service-learning, the state’s “Schools of Character” initiative, and coordinating professional development initiatives such as SLICE.

Through SLICE, she will identify 15 teachers interested in developing service-learning and civic education units of study, for implementation and refinement this fall.

“I hope to build a cadre of teachers across the state who are experts, so that they can be the experts to teach others,” says Knox, who notes that pockets of service-learning in North Carolina are very strong.

She sees service-learning as addressing the “whole child” so SLICE fits well with the state’s emphasis character development, through which service-learning receives funding. “Students understand their value, their ability to give back — even those who don’t feel as if they have a voice,” she says. “Service-learning … also is important for what students learn as they give back.”


Her colleague, Joe Feinberg, is an associate professor at Georgia State University and member of the National Council for the Social Studies Board of Directors, who will similarly recruit and support 15 teachers from across Georgia. A devotee of not only civic education and service-learning, but also simulation games, he taught high school civics, geography, economics, and history prior to his work in higher education with pre-service teachers and graduate students.

He sees the integration of civic education and service-learning as natural and says that “Service-learning makes you a more engaged citizen.”

For Feinberg and his Honors College students, this means digging into issues of homelessness in the neighborhoods of Georgia State, in downtown Atlanta. While other professors may advise their students not to interact with those who are experiencing homelessness, Feinberg asks for the opposite. “Students talk about how powerful and positive these experiences are for them.”

In particular, he is excited about the service-learning tie to backwards planning. “I’ve seen many schools and teachers go this way,” says Feinberg, “That NYLC is utilizing a current and strong approach to instruction tied to service-learning is a win-win.”

K-12 Teachers are welcome to either of the two FREE one-day trainings hosted by NYLC and designed to help educators integrate service-learning in civic engagement. Participants will learn how to plan and implement service-learning projects using the backwards planning approach, and the five-step inquiry-based “IPARD” cycle (investigation, planning and preparation, action, reflection, and demonstration of learning).

North Carolina SLICE Training
WHEN: Wed., July 11, 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.; Register by July 3, 2018.
WHERE: Knightdale High School of Collaborative Design, Knightdale, NC
North Carolina teachers can apply for $500 to support their integration of service-learning in civic education instruction this fall. *Bring your device (laptop, iPad or tablet) to plan your service-learning inquiry project. Contact with questions.

Georgia SLICE Training
WHEN: Mon., July 9, 2018, 9:30 – 4:00 p.m.; Register by July 2, 2018.
WHERE: Central Georgia Technical College in Warner Robins in Building W (Sonny Watson Health Sciences Building) Room 113 Quads A/C, 80 Cohen Walker Drive, Warner Robins, Ga., 31088.
Georgia teachers are eligible to apply for a $500 stipend to support their integration of service-learning in civic education instruction this fall. *Bring your device (laptop, iPad or tablet) to plan your service-learning inquiry project. Contact with questions.

Tags:  character education  civic education  featured  Georgia  higher education  North carolina  Schools of Character  service-learning  summer training 

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Service-Learning April Digest

Posted By NYLC, Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Updated: Saturday, August 4, 2018

While educators and students wrap up school year service-learning projects across the country, NYLC staff hit the road this past month, traveling to service-learning hot spots as far flung as Japan and Turkey. Read about these staffer’s discoveries of Japan’s historic emphasis on peace education since WWII, and Turkey’s interests in supporting Somali-Americans in Minnesota.

April brings not only rainfall (or record snows if you live in Minnesota), but also:

  • Recently, the Child Development Center at Davidson County Community College in Lexington, N.C. raised nearly $3,000 through a  “Trike-A-Thon.” Forty-five childcare and preschool students circled a track on the sidewalk of the playground as parents and teachers cheered. The event teaches childcare and preschool students tricycle and riding safety while raising money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Proceeds benefit research and treatment for children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
  • In Seattle, Wash., the Youth Ambassadors Program, sponsored by the Gates Foundation Discovery Center, is a year-long service learning program for high school students designed to educate, engage, and empower youth. Jahil Kirby, a high school junior, is learning about the music industry, and sharing his passions with others through the 2018 Teen Action Fair. He is also involved in a program called The Residency, which focuses on youth development through hip hop.
  • In Dallas Township, Pa., Misericordia University math education students celebrated “Math Day” with middle school student by mixing math and music with dance,  instructing their third grade charges to “Put the triangle in … take the triangle out” of the circle during a round of Hokey Pokey designed to help them differentiate between and count the sides of triangles, squares, and rectangles. Math Day is a service project for the Math Club, and the service-learning component of the Intro to Early Childhood Education and Math Methods I – courses teacher education majors take.
  • In Orlando, Fla., college student Clayton Kruse has been awarded the Actuality Media Documentary Outreach Scholarship to study the art and practice of filmmaking while producing a short documentary on a change-maker “making a sustainable impact on chronic social or environmental problems.” The film that secured him the scholarship was about the quiet ending of a recycling program at his college, Walla Walla University. Actuality Media is a service-learning organization that takes students and young professionals abroad to create short documentaries on changemakers in developing communities around the world. Find out more at
  • In northern Kentucky, elementary students have created a traveling wall that honors fallen veterans. Fifth-graders at Kelly Elementary in Burlington, Ky., have been  documenting local heroes, interviewing family members, and writing biographies. Community partners included a master carpenter, the local VFW, the American Legion, and a county-level grant. “It’s really worth it because we’re bringing back the memories of their loved ones,” said student Alexis.

Tags:  documentary filmmaking  math education  monthly digest  service-learning  veterans  youth ambassadors 

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Youths Changing the World

Posted By NYLC, Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Updated: Saturday, August 4, 2018

Calling all youths, ages 15-17! Do you have a project that has made a positive impact on the community?

NYLC is pleased to share this amazing opportunity from our friends at the IberoAmericano Network and América Solidaria Argentina (ACA).

Student teams (of no more than three) are asked to upload a video of up to three minutes explaining their project, how it impacts the community, and how it supports a Sustainable Development Goal.

Horizontal Grp SDGs Refuge SLC18 Day 3

Project submissions are due by May 25, 2018. Winners are invited to The Generation Concausa Argentina where they will participate in a local meetings. Additional virtual training will be offered in June, July, and August and selected teams will represent their country in the Continental Meeting, which will be held the week of November, 2018, in Santiago de Chile.

See last year’s student projects.

Learn More at

Tags:  events  youth leadership 

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Reflections on Justice in Action

Posted By NYLC, Monday, April 16, 2018
Updated: Saturday, August 4, 2018

by Ananya Singh, NYLC Youth Advisory Council Member

I’ve been involved with NYLC by serving on their Youth Advisory Council (YAC), a team of servant leaders (pictured above) from across the country that advises NYLC on its programming and brings valuable youth perspectives to the organization’s work.

Over the past two years, I’ve gotten so many incredible opportunities through NYLC, including: 

  • co-developing and co-facilitating educator trainings
  • working on a marketing + outreach committee
  • being on staff at the national youth leadership training

  • Most recently, I attended the 26th annual National Service-Learning Conference, JUSTICE IN ACTION, hosted by NYLC in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was highly involved in many different aspects of it. I am so excited to share my reflections on this amazing experience.

    Educator Institute

     Before the actual conference, I got to spend two days with a group of teachers and administrators, co-facilitating a training about service-learning with NYLC staff. I got to share my perspectives as a young person, and I learned so much about what it takes to be a teacher, and how much goes into the planning!

    It was hard (but rewarding!) work, for both the attendees and the facilitators. It was cool to see how everyone planned to bring high quality service-learning into their own schools and class- rooms.

    The group included educators from California, Alaska, and even the U.K. There were so many awesome conversations and new connections being made! It was so cool to be there!

    Plenary Speech

     Definitely one of my highlights of the conference was that I got the chance to speak on the plenary stage, in front of the everyone. It was certainly nerve wracking, but I actually enjoyed it! I talked about my experience with education, what education equity means to me, and my vision for a world with education. I spent so much time in the previous month fleshing out all the different ideas and possibilities, but I was making edits and revising up until the day before! I decided to mostly speak from the heart, but I kept up with the general structure I had planned. I felt really good after I finally finished, and I received so many amazing responses from everyone afterwards, it was amazing! I’m really glad that I took the opportunity, and I hope my public speaking will only get better from here!

    Youth Room

    Another role I took on at the conference was being the chair of the Youth Room committee, which meant I got to coordinate a speed-networking event and a dance party. We went with a jungle theme, and I picked out some decorations and (in my opinion) some great food options, including a pretty sweet candy bar and some healthy options! We also got our hands on a giant Connect Four, and giant Jenga, which were awesome. It was so fun to just bring people together and have a good time with my fellow YAC members. It was also great experience with event planning, and I learned more about decision making, delegating, and reaching out for help when I needed it.

    Day of Service

    Something that makes the National Service-Learning really special is that after the workshops and sessions are over, we have a day of service to go into the community and bring our discussions about service into action! My site for the day of service was the Twin Cities YMCA Equity Innovation Lab. It’s a newly designed center and we got to tour around and see the building. It was so well designed, from the architecture to the workspace layouts, to the furniture choice. I got the chance to really get into conversations with people as we worked on our service project, which was writing cards for the YMCA’s international partners. We learned all about how the YMCA actually has very different perceptions across the world; it’s not necessarily the gym and swim centers that we think about. It’s hostels and community support, and so many different things! Making the cards was perfectly up my alley, but I think the most important part of the day of service was the new friends and getting inspiration from the space!

    In Summary

    I got to do even more, over the course of the whole conference. I presented a workshop with tips to get involved in your community with politics, which went well! I helped staff the registration desk and talked to lots of new people from across the world, even from Singapore and Taiwan! I had conversations with different sponsors and exhibitors and was thoroughly impressed by how many great things are going on in the service field!

    I attended several workshops and sessions and got lots of new ideas about service-learning and education. One of my absolute favorites was the Gathering of Elders, which was a two-hour session where elders shared wisdom they had gathered through their experiences with life. Their stories were so raw and authentic and impactful, yet still uplifting. I also heard some really awesome speeches during the plenary stage sessions.

    Some of the best moments were also just hanging out with the rest of the YAC, and there’s always so much I learn from spending time with them! We got to see downtown St. Paul, which was a nice area set right by the Mississippi River.

    Overall, it was a crazy, busy, exhausting week, but an extremely inspiring, truly awesome experience that I am so grateful for!

    Tags:  community action  day of service  educator institute  justice in action  service-learning 

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