Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the 2022 National League of Cities’ City Congressional Conference where we spoke with early learning researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
A key part of youth advocacy is making sure the adults in the room are listening and taking action. Avinash Verma explains how youths connect with their communities differently than adults, and what that means in terms of needed resources and support. Avinash also explains how his community engagement has helped fuel is interest in aviation, including a work-learning program at the airport and with NASA.
Chris Riback: Avinash, thanks so much for coming to the studio. Looking forward to talking with you.
Avinash Verma: Of course. I look forward to the conversation as well.
Chris Riback: So tell me about yourself. What year are you in high school? What are your interests?
Avinash Verma: All right. So my name is Avinash Verma, and I live in Austin, Texas. And I’m currently a senior, so looking forward to graduating in about a few months. A few of my interests, I really like to watch movies. I’m a big-
Chris Riback: Big movie buff.
Avinash Verma: … avid fan of movies. Yes, movie buff. And a few of my interests are, of course, policies, local politics. I really like to be involved in my community. That’s something I really try to build into my life and make an effort to be more involved in my community.
Chris Riback: Excellent.
Avinash Verma: And overall, I also really love to cook. I love to cook in my free times, try out new recipes.
Chris Riback: Well, if the policy, government, changing the world thing doesn’t work out for you, you can always do a meal and a movie.
Avinash Verma: Oh, of course. Yes. A meal and a movie totally works.
Chris Riback: That sounds like [inaudible]. There are a lot of policies out there.
Avinash Verma: Yes.
Chris Riback: Education, environment, health, criminal justice, infrastructure. What are you motivated on?
Avinash Verma: Something that I’m really passionate about is youth engagement. There are not a lot of policies that exist when it comes to involving youth in policies, in politics, in local government, in state government, in federal government. There are not a lot of initiatives that are set in stone steps taken towards involving youth more and more into politics. A lot of youth, a lot of people that I speak to, my friends, my colleagues, they think politics as a taboo. That’s something that, in their mind, is like, “Oh, the system is broken. I don’t want to be involved in it. It’s too complicated for me to understand.”
So I think making efforts towards getting that notion out of people is really important. And youth engagement, more information, more experience out there will really help our community grow stronger together and also focus more on policies and politics, which actually will change the world. And another topic that I’m also really passionate about is, of course, infrastructure. So just infrastructure when it comes to roads, when it comes to schools, when it comes to the resources we have at schools, the resources we have as a community is also really important for me, because I truly believe that having a lot of resources and the opportunities are out there. And really looking for the resources that will connect you to the opportunities is really important to me.
Chris Riback: Now, you sit on NLC’s Council on Youth, Education, and Families.
Avinash Verma: That’s correct.
Chris Riback: What are you focused on there? What’s the work like there?
Avinash Verma: There are four youth that are appointed on the Youth, Education, and Families Council here at NLC every term. And I have served two terms on it. I was reelected last year to be a part of the council again. So our work is mainly to amplify youth voice at NLC. So we have about 165 youth delegates at the conference at CCC right now. We technically cannot have all of them be part of NLC board and represent our voices, so the four of us represent their voices on the issues that we want the YEF board to prioritize and issues that are important to us. The YEF council is really a great opportunity for all of us to amplify our voices.
And since the name of the council is Youth, Education, and Families, really having the youth perspective on issues and what we want on the changes that we want to see is really important to NLC, and I think that’s great. So just being a part of it for two years, so our work is basically providing data, providing statistics on the issues that we discuss here through NLC conferences for the youth delegates, what issues we think are important, what projects that youth councils from all across the country are working on, and what change we want to see. So really bringing that voice out to NLC, and then NLC will take our word forward and create policies, work on it further. So that’s really kind of my role at YEF.
Chris Riback: So as you amplify your voice, as you try to push your words forward, you’re in those meetings with adults.
Avinash Verma: Correct.
Chris Riback: What are the adults missing? What do they not understand?
Avinash Verma: Adults are really missing the connect, right? So the connect that we have with our community is totally different than what the adults have. What we face in our day-to-day lives is very different than what the adults face. We have to take a school bus to go to school. We have to interact with our teachers. We have to interact with our resources that we have. What is the technology like? Do we have access to laptops? Do we have access to broadband connection? It’s all that connect that we have with our community is totally different than the connect that adults have in their day-to-day lives. So I think really bringing that perspective to the council on what is important to us is what really matters.
Chris Riback: What is the Real World Learning Movement?
Avinash Verma: Real world learning. So the Real World Learning Movement is to really incorporate real world learning into schools. So we did a workshop, a part of the Youth Delegation program [inaudible] city summit, which was focused on real world learning. And we partnered with the Kauffman Founders Foundation that is based off in Kansas. So the Real World Learning Initiative is basically to integrate real world learning part of school curriculums, part of school district curriculums. So for a few hours of the school, let’s say they’re part of the youth engagement track. So the youth engagement track, you’ll take few classes on youth engagement your first year, freshman year maybe. And your sophomore, junior year you actually go out in the real world to work in civic engagement. So the Kauffman Foundation has this whole system set up in Olathe, Kansas, where we really took inspiration from. So their school district has the Real World Learning platform integrated into their school district.
So they have different tracks, such as youth engagement, engineering, STEM, civic leadership. So all these tracks really help students to get their career path decided as well as move forward with it and gain real world experience at the same time. So for example, the civic leadership track will work at the city office the three hours that they’re supposed to be at school. So they’re getting their real world learning experience. We have a similar system at my school back in Austin, Texas. It is not a district-wide thing, but our automotive program has really implemented the Real World Learning program.
So I have been part of the program for four years. And for the first three years, we are in the classroom, in the shop that we have on school, working on cars, learning all the ins and out, and really diagnosis as well as repair. And then my senior year, which currently I go out to Austin INFINITI dealership and work at their maintenance facility. So just having that experience, to me, the real world learning, that’s the whole essence of it, that me going and working out in an automotive industry and learning how they do things differently than what I learned back in school, how they do work orders, how they work on cars, what are the different techniques that they use that I didn’t learn about, that just gets me ready for the industry. So it’s really the essence of real world learning and getting that experience.
Chris Riback: That’s a key part of education, isn’t it?
Avinash Verma: Of course, and that is what is missing in our community, right? I meet so many people who are like, “Oh, I still haven’t decided my career path. I still don’t know what I want to do.” And really these programs will really help them narrow down or dislike a career path that they were thinking about. Right? So this will really help youth and young adults to really understand the career that they’re going into and gain the real world experience.
Chris Riback: Rockets or airplanes?
Avinash Verma: Airplanes.
Chris Riback: Airplanes.
Avinash Verma: Airplanes, for sure.
Chris Riback: I was reading your background. I saw a little bit of NASA, but I also saw Austin Airport.
Avinash Verma: Oh, yes.
Chris Riback: Airplanes over rockets. Okay.
Avinash Verma: I’m also a big av geek. I like to look at planes. What are the different airlines out there? Do a lot of research on that as well. But yes, I have worked with NASA also on… So the best part is I did not work on rockets when I was in NASA. I worked on airplanes while I was in NASA.
Chris Riback: Oh. So that’s why-
Avinash Verma: I was part of their aviation department internship.
Chris Riback: I see. Okay. Well, that’s the part that I missed. And lastly, what’s next for you?
Avinash Verma: So when I joined Austin Youth Council four years ago as a freshman, really policies and municipal leadership and politics was not in my mind at all. I was just looking for an opportunity to be part of my community more, to be more engaged. And I joined this program, and I ended up really liking it. So I really do see a future in politics and in policy making. But currently, my focus is to get a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. So I have always had that passion for cars in mind. So even my mom tells me till today, “Oh, he had his path set when he was five years old. He always wanted to do something in the automotive industry.” So that’s why I chose my high school to go to, and I’m part of the automotive program over there. So I want a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and specialize in automotive design, get a masters, work in the field a little bit, but eventually maybe make my transition into policies and politics and bring that engineering background in mind.
Chris Riback: And at that point, that’s when you become Secretary of Transportation.
Avinash Verma: Oh, we just saw the Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, a few hours ago. Sure. I did not think about that.
Chris Riback: Okay. Well, we’ll let him know. Leave the resume and we’ll let him know.
Avinash Verma: Sounds good.
Chris Riback: Avinash, thank you so much. Thank you for stopping by the studio.