We can do better … and Youth Voices is doing it! Please give a gift to make it happen.

Reposted from my blog In Community

Back in February I wrote a blog post about a Connected Learning webinar that was interesting to me mostly because of the contributions of Chappelle Campbell, a student at The Bronx Academy Senior High. and her teacher Paul Allison, an English Teacher at the same school and a member of the New York City Writing Project.

I titled the post “We can do better” inspired by Paul Allison’s statement:

We can do better than Facebook on other sites that we … manufacture ourselves.

Paul’s statement emerged in a conversation about how to bring digital media and learning together. I think few of us would argue him when he says that we can “Do better than Facebook” when it comes to teaching and learning. But “manufacture it ourselves”? What is Paul talking about?! What are they manufacturing that could even be close to something like Facebook and is what ways does it have anything to do with learning?

Paul Allison is one of the founders of Youth Voices, a school-based social network that was started in 2003 by a group of National Writing Project teachers. And since 2003, Paul and these teachers, along with their students, developers, writers, artists and fellow travelers in the emerging field of digital networked media, have been working to create a forum that embraces social and networked ways of learning and sharing that is, I would argue, much better than Facebook.

They have worked hard to create a robust social network that is open and public that kids can access and have control of their own work, even within the walls of formal schools and institutions. And to create a place and space online that connects students across classrooms so that they can write, read, compose, share and engage with each and deepen their research interests, passions and work together alongside their teachers. In order to do this, Paul and this team of teachers have listened first and foremost to students to find out what kinds of things would guide them in going deep into their passions, would help them connect with others, and that wouldn’t feel “schooly” but instead authentic to their emotional and intellectual growth.

And out of this in-depth work, they have created a uniquely rich and openly networked interest-driven and personalized learning environment for youth. An environment that has been co-constructed by its stakeholders and supports democratic principles of teaching and connected learning.

Ten years later, Youth Voices continues to grow and develop. This summer, the Youth Voices team in New York is looking for help to offer scholarships to a Youth Voices Summer Program that will make it possible for youth from the Bronx to find and explore their passions in the supported, connected, academic environment of Lehman College, CUNY. The mission at Youth Voices is to be a place online where students from across the nation (and globally, when possible) can engage other young people in conversations about real topics that they see happening in the world. The Youth Voices Summer Program would provide youth and teacher mentors an opportunity to connect to both an online, as well as a face-to-face, community of networked learners.

While this summer might, on the surface, simply involve fifteen students from the Bronx working alongside five dedicated teachers, the implications of what they learn can have far wider impact. Youth often need support and encouragement to connect their interests to wider communities and ideas so that they can deepen their creative and academic processes. And teachers need opportunities to mentor but also to learn from what’s possible when youth deeply engage in their own learning in their own ways and for their own purposes. These are key ideas within the framework of Connected Learning, the core component of the Summer of Making and Connecting, where work from the Youth Voices Summer Program will be connected and shared. Therefore, the 2013 Youth Voices Summer Program will provide a blueprint that teachers around the country can use to implement connected, blended, passion-based, online learning, while at the same time making the instructional shifts we need to help students find success in the Common Core Learning Standards.

Fifteen students from the Bronx. Five dedicated teachers. A summer of learning together that could change their lives — and change the way kids learn all across America.

Please give what you can to make it happen.

ps. If you need more convincing spend 12 minutes watching Paul’s screencast on Why we want students to work on Youth Voices.