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Kids: a Fundamental Building Block in Community Resiliency #3

Before delving into building a community’s resilience on the resilience traits found in youth we need to recognize (admit to) a number of facts too often taken for granted. Kids are the future. They are freer, more innovative thinkers than many adults. Their own, personal resilience is reinforced as they contribute to that of their community. An important factor in moving to a more complete, active integration of kids in their community calls for them to willingly engage in learning. Engaged learning is the key to employing youth in the building of more resilient communities.

What aspects of learning foster students willingly becoming engaged in learning? The educational arena is replete with conferences, workshops, seminars, webinars aimed at making over education. One difficulty with all the very sincere efforts, time, and money poured into such endeavors is that "there is a notable lack of 'student voice' or student perspectives [at these events and] in the literature on student engagement" (Taylor and Parsons, 2011, 6). The same holds true for student voice in educational policy making, curriculum development, school environments, and more. However, Taylor and Parsons' work (2011) provides a good overview of research into what students are asking for in their schools and classrooms.

In students’ own words, they want learning environments that are socially interactive, that involve them with each other and people across their communities (Willms, Friesen, and Milton, 2009; Dunleavy and Milton, 2009). Social interaction, virtual and face-to-face, is critical to engaged learning. The social interaction that students call for includes their teachers with whom they want to interact, negotiate, and explore together. Students enjoy teachers being partners in learning; modeling the acts and excitement of learning rather than lecturing (Claxton, 2007). "Open, caring, respectful relationships between learners and teachers are essential to develop and support social and psychological engagement in learning, but also are part of the new curriculum itself, as described by Dunleavy & Milton (2009)" (Taylor & Parsons, 2011, 9). For today's learners, intellectual engagement is part and parcel with social engagement.

Learning environments that engage students are characterized by inquiry-based, problem-based, exploratory challenges (Willms, Friesen, & Milton, 2009; Brown, 2000; Hay, 2000; Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005; Barnes et al., 2007). Merged with students' wishes to be active participants in and contributors to their communities, it's not farfetched to say that their engaged learning would be bolstered by community-driven projects: projects derived from, specific to, or requested by local citizens. A community-driven, or place-based project, involves students in problem solving processes with people from across their community in the kinds exploratory discussions that are rewarding in that they are welcomed to help improve their community. Real projects driven by long standing and growing needs in a community that call for fresh ideas and approaches satisfies students' wish to have their work be a part of their community and involve them in the disciplines they are studying ( Taylor and Parsons, 2011, 12).

Place-based, local learning, working collaboratively with adults and helping expand the knowledge of those who are "running the community" brings a relevancy to the students' experiences that, in a sense, rewards or makes relevant their own experiences, cultures and personal long-term goals. The kids’ sense of being a valued member of the community brings a purpose to learning that is missing in theoretical and text-based classes. Community members, non-profits, municipal staff, and business owners who bring projects to the classroom, are those who are concerned with their environments, their quality of life. As such, time and time again, I've noticed those same community members, neighborhood volunteers (many of whom are retirees), city staff, and business leaders make great role models. They open students to worlds outside of class and school. They don't hesitate to correct students, and when needed let them know there are social rules to be lived by. And, those adults are themselves happy to be engaged in conversations that stretch their minds, and challenge their worldviews. For eight years, over 16 semesters, this observation was proved out again and again. In fact, the best role models my students ever encountered were the residents and business owners in one of Washington State's poorest neighborhoods. The personal dialogs, colored by respect, honesty and appreciation, contributed to the kids' self-worth while they contributed to the greater community's spirit.

In learning environments that blur the line between classroom and community and teacher and student (with community members at times taking the roles of both teacher and student) the students start to flex their intellectual muscles. When this happens, teachers have to be prepared to be equally flexible. The kids challenge their teacher's values, worldview, and bring to light things of which they have no knowledge. While it takes a strong personality, teachers can actually use this latter point to their advantage and satisfy students' wish for their teacher to be a partner in learning.

I have to admit to being surprised at the number of instances researchers noted kids' call for more not less intellectual rigor (Willms, Friesen, and Milton, 2009; Taylor and Parsons, 2011, 19). This call for rigor, for structure, on the part of students, is found to be an attribute supportive of their ability to strengthen their own personalities and resist falling into alcohol and drug use. "Bennett, Wolin, and Reiss have found that even in alcoholic families, children tended to have better outcomes if the family was able to maintain some order and clear expectations for behavior (1988)" (Benard, 1991, 10).

In so many ways, what students want is echoed by industry, governments, and small and large communities. The kids are a product of the times. Their calls to be heard, to be involved, to be contributors instead of consumers, could not have emerged at a better time in our history. Despite people and factions making the news, global trends are driving much of what is happening: first-time ever global trends (aging societies, climate change, obesity, and water and energy scarcity) that are touching everyone need to be approached with first-time-ever ideas, processes, and solutions. To an extent youth's call to be more engaged in learning that contributes to those people and places around them is an interesting response to Albert Einstein's realization that "We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Or, to put it another way, Margret Mead notes "The children, the young, must ask the questions we would never think to ask, but enough trust must be re-established so that the elders will be permitted to work with them on the answers" (Mead, 1970, 95).

Barnes, K., Marateo, R. & Ferris, S. P. (2007). Learning Independence: New Approaches for Educating the Net Generation. Retrieved August 2014 from http://www.masternewmedia.org/news/2007/05/04/learning_independence_new_approac hes_for.htm

Bennett, L., Wolin, S., and Reiss, D. 1988. Cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems among school-age children of alcoholic parents. American Journal of Psychiatry 145(2), 185-190.

Brown, J. S. (2000). Growing up digital: How the Web changes work, education, and the ways people learn. Change, March/April, 10–20. Also accessible at USDLA Journal, 6 (2) February 2002. http://www.usdla.org/html/journal/FEB02_Issue/article01.html

Claxton, G. (2007). Expanding young people’s capacity to learn. British Journal of Educational Studies. 55(2), 1-20.

Dunleavy, J. & Milton, P. (2009). What did you do in school today? Exploring the concept of Student Engagement and its implications for Teaching and Learning in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Education Association (CEA), 1-22.

Hay, L. E. (2000). Educating the Net Generation. The Social Administrator 57(54), 6-10.

Mead, M. 1970. Culture and Commitment. New York: Natural History Press/Doubleday

Oblinger, D. & Oblinger, J. (2005). Is it age or IT: first steps towards understanding the net generation. In D. Oblinger & J. Oblinger (Eds), Educating the Net generation (pp. 2.1– 2.20). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE. Retrieved August 2014, from http://www.educause.edu/educatingthenetgen

Taylor, L. & Parsons, J. (2011). Improving Student Engagement. Current Issues in Education, 14(1). Retrieved from http://cie.asu.edu/

Willms, J. D. (2003). Student Engagement at School: A Sense of Belonging and Participation. Results from PISA 2000. Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Accessed August 2014 from  http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/programmeforinternationalstudentassessmentpisa/33689437.pdf