Helping Young People Have a Voice in Their Education

By Andrea Ruggirello, Senior Associate & Writer

During The Hatcher Group’s two years as the primary communications firm for The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, we worked to disseminate the powerful idea that learning is social and emotional. The release early last year of the report A Nation at Hope engaged thousands in this vital conversation.

As the report documents, social and emotional learning benefits all children of every background. But it disproportionally benefits children from low-income communities, many of whom experience trauma and adversity resulting from insecure access to housing, food, and safety. All students need supportive relationships and nurturing learning environments, but students facing additional stress have a particular need to be heard and surrounded by caring adults who treat them as individuals with worth. And when adults listen to students’ needs and voices and create this environment, children of every background can thrive.

We’ve since been thrilled to continue to amplify the message with America’s Promise Alliance, whose How Learning Happens initiative engages with young people to find out how they perceive and experience social and emotional learning approaches. As the nation responds to COVID-19, ongoing systemic racism, and an impending economic crisis, understanding how to support the social, emotional, and cognitive development of America’s young people has never been more urgent. In recent months, Hatcher has launched and disseminated reports furthering America’s Promise position as a virtual megaphone for the voices of young people to share their experiences during the pandemic and beyond.

The state of young people during COVID-19. In late April and early May, the research arm of America’s Promise conducted a nationally-representative survey of 3,300 young people ages 13-19, seeking to understand their social and emotional support while schools were closed. The responses showed that COVID-19 was taking its toll on young people, who were spending fewer hours each day in class or working on assignments and felt increasingly disconnected and concerned about the future. To raise awareness about the need for immediate and ongoing support for these students and their families, Hatcher developed a targeted media list and pitch note and organized an embargoed media call to release these important and sobering survey results. A beautifully designed infographic distilling the survey’s key findings was shared among reporters, partners, and on social media.

All of Who I Am. In late June, Hatcher supported the release of a qualitative report, All of Who I Am, which features insights from interviews with 100 young people from across the country about their personal experiences with social, emotional, and cognitive learning, and considers how their insights can help improve how learning happens. We also disseminated a youth engagement guide that helps educators, coaches, mentors, and other adults listen and connect authentically with young people.

#StateofYoungPeople. Hatcher produced a series of social media videos that showcase young people talking about their learning experiences during COVID-19. Second-grader Henry M. spoke about missing out on soccer, worrying about his aunt who got sick, and how it’s been “really, really hard” to do “all of this school on screens.” College student Daniela C. shared concerns about keeping her status as an international student. Dyson C. urged leaders to value the lives of teachers and students over education. These young people had important things to say about their experiences, fears, and hopes during the pandemic. America’s Promise has given them a platform of tens of thousands of social media followers who are eager and ready to listen.

We’ve learned a lot about what young people think and need through our support of the America’s Promise Alliance How Learning Happens initiative. Most importantly, when given a platform to tell their stories and share their opinions, our youth are ready to lead. We’re proud to be a partner in this critical effort to lift up the voices and stories of the next generation.

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