Published on: Saturday, July 2, 2016 Takoma Park Newsletter

#TkPkYTHsuccess: A community in conversation

By Apryl Motley

“What’s the key for success?” Laura Furr asked the audience of teachers, parents, students, community organizers, and City staff and government officials assembled at the Takoma Park Community Center on June 18 for “A Community Conversation: Youth Success.”

Furr, the program manager for the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, Justice Reform and Youth Engagement at the National League of Cities, gave one of two keynote presentations designed to set the stage for the afternoon. She offered this response to her own question: “youth having an authentic voice in decisions impacting them.”

According to Furr, youth gain this voice through civic engagement. She cited a lower voting age and the existence of a strong youth council as examples of worthwhile engagement. In addition to facilitating youth engagement, Furr said the manner in which adverse childhood experiences are addressed is another factor influencing youth success in that communities need to “rethink how they talk to youth.” For example, rather than asking youth what they did, the more important questions to pose might be, what happened to you, and what do you need?

Samir Paul, a computer science teacher at Montgomery Blair High School, believes another important question should be included in this list of queries: “Is there an adult at school who knows your name and cares about you? Paul shared this sentiment as part of a panel discussion on local insights. From his viewpoint, “extensive wrap-around services are needed, including parent and community engagement and broader community advocacy on behalf of schools.”

He said, “If we want to create real environments where kids feel safe, effort from all sides is needed.”

A current student at and recent graduate of Montgomery Blair High School, respectively, Saron Alemseged and Angel Ngatchou, participated on the panel with Paul. Alemseged began her remarks by stating, “I can’t see myself living anywhere else.” She acknowledged that while she’s “always” at the TP Community Center and takes advantage of the many resources available to youth in Takoma Park, many youth don’t because they are not aware of them. “We don’t use resources enough,” she said. “We must come together, and we don’t. This must change.”

Ngatchou sees herself as part of making the change that’s needed to bring youth together and make them more aware of the resources available to them. “I have been in the U.S. for six years since the seventh grade,” she said. “When I came here, I was lost and didn’t know what to do. Takoma Park helped me, and I want to give back.”

The general consensus in the room seemed to be that any conversation about youth success should be focused on a collective, multi-pronged outreach effort. As Karen MacPherson, children’s and young adult manager for the City of Takoma Park Library, noted during her remarks on existing youth programs and services, “youth success does not happen by accident.”

So how can the community gain additional insight into what resources available now, what’s missing and how the City can address those needs and gaps? To begin this process, following the keynote presentations and panel discussions, attendees were invited to participate in break out groups where they discussed the future of youth success. Each group was tasked with addressing four main questions:

  1. What does youth success look like?
  2. What are the most pressing issues impacting youth in our area today?
  3. What gaps and needs exist in the services provided in the area?
  4. What can the City of Takoma Park do to facilitate youth success?

Once the break out groups completed their discussions, a representative from each one reported back to the larger group when it reconvened. Essentially, this critical conversation is just getting started.

As Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart wrote in a recent post to the City Council & Mayor Blog, “ensuring opportunities for all our youth to succeed is a top priority as the City Council plans for the future and looks to address the current needs of residents.”

This article appeared in the July 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.