Katie Abbott: How to Engage Community Youth to Improve Your Community - Early Learning Nation

Katie Abbott: How to Engage Community Youth to Improve Your Community

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.

One way to improve education: communication. For Pinecrest (FL) Vice Mayor Katie Abbott, that means not only regularly connecting with the school board, but also with students. Abbott co-coordinates the Pinecrest Youth Advisory Council, a group of 24 students in grades 8-12 across public and private schools who engage in government, volunteering and education, tackling issues from the environment to preparing for college.


Chris Riback:                 Vice Mayor Abbot. Thank you so much for joining us.

Katie Abbott:                Thanks for having me.

Chris Riback:                 Looking Forward to chatting.

Katie Abbott:                Yes.

Chris Riback:                 Describe Pinecrest, Florida, for me please. What is the community like? What are your biggest challenges?

Katie Abbott:                So, Pinecrest, Florida is a municipality of Miami-Dade County. So, Miami-Dade county is this big. It has 34 municipalities, and we are one of them. We’re a suburb of Miami. It has about 18,000 residents. We’re 26 years old. We just celebrated our 26 anniversary last week, so we’re very proud of that. We are, some still consider us a semi-rural community. We are very family-focused. We’re school-focused. It’s a wonderful place to be. I grew up there. It’s just night and day from when I was there.

Chris Riback:                 I understand that one of your governing philosophies is cradle to grave.

Katie Abbott:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Riback:                 Tell me about the cradle part. What’s the role of government in early childhood learning?

Katie Abbott:                So, it’s interesting in Pinecrest, because our school system, our public school system is actually Miami-Dade. So, it’s a bigger picture, but we work so closely with our schools. We have five public schools in Pinecrest. We have an education committee that we meet monthly with our principals, with our school board, with the whole district. We have parents who are interested. We give yearly grants to our five schools of $10,000 each. So, there’s a real tight connection between our local government and Miami-Dade County public schools.

Chris Riback:                 What’s that coordination like what? What lessons, what guidance might you have for other officials who also have to do that type of coordination, because any effort like this requires working across levels of government, and then also with local community members?

Katie Abbott:                Absolutely. I think it’s all about reaching out, and making connections, and getting to know your representative. So, for example, our school board member, I know her well. I can email her. We’ve talked. We’re very open, and I think sometimes even elected officials are hesitant to reach out to other elected officials.

Chris Riback:                 Yes.

Katie Abbott:                But you really need to keep that line of communication open in order to get things done.

Chris Riback:                 What is the Pinecrest Youth Advisory Council?

Katie Abbott:                It’s my favorite.

Chris Riback:                 Well, tell me about it then please.

Katie Abbott:                I am so proud. I co-coordinate our Pinecrest Youth Advisory Council. It’s 24 students who live in Pinecrest. They go to various schools. So, they go to private schools. They go to public schools. They’re eighth grade to 12th grade, and they’re just students who are devoted to learning about government number one, and number two, giving back to the community. So, they volunteer at our events. We hold workshops for youth. Anyone is able to come, and then we talk about to topics that are of interest to them.

Chris Riback:                 What’s of interest to them? What are they bringing to you these days?

Katie Abbott:                So, okay. So, right before I came here, we had one on the environment and the changing climate. We had a local executive director of an art facility come and talk about rising sea levels. We talked about elevation of the student’s houses. They got to make a flag that put, they put the elevation on it. They planted a mangrove. We talk about college interviews, 101, college hazing, topics that are of interest to that age group.

Chris Riback:                 How do you also navigate, because you’ve talking about a lot of important issues, sometimes personal issues how do you navigate progress when an environment sometimes can become political? We see news from Florida, but Florida’s not the only place.

Katie Abbott:                Right.

Chris Riback:                 Every state, every local municipality has its politics. How do you push past politics to make progress?

Katie Abbott:                Absolutely. In Florida, in particular, it’s getting a little bit more challenging, especially with recent proposed legislation that we’re trying to navigate. Here at the conference yesterday, we were talking about efforts that they were proposing that actually, I might not be able to do, going forward. So, it’s very challenging. We can continue to work on it. We continue to do what we think is best for our community and our children. We just, we can’t give up, right? We have to keep doing what we need to do.

Chris Riback:                 Got to keep pushing forward.

Katie Abbott:                Yes.

Chris Riback:                 Now, you know that I cannot have a conversation with you without asking as well, about Palmetto High School.

Katie Abbott:                Yes.

Chris Riback:                 I understand that there’s a debate team that has had a few stars-

Katie Abbott:                A few.

Chris Riback:                 … of which, you might be among the most famous, but maybe-

Katie Abbott:                Absolutely not.

Chris Riback:                 Maybe not the most famous.

Katie Abbott:                Not the most famous. So, our school, our local public school, support public schools, has produced many people who are successful in the world, including Ketanji Brown Jackson, our current Supreme Court nominee. Jeff Bezos went there. He was valedictorian. Our current Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy-

Chris Riback:                 Yes.

Katie Abbott:                … went there. Many more successful people, whether you know them or not out of this public school, outside of Miami, Florida.

Chris Riback:                 There’s a lesson there isn’t there?

Katie Abbott:                There’s a lesson there. There is certainly a lesson there. We have to keep supporting our public education.

Chris Riback:                 Got to keep supporting public education, and got to watch out for who comes out of Palmetto, because they might run a big company, or become a new Supreme Court Justice.

Katie Abbott:                Yes. Absolutely.

Chris Riback:                 Or a Vice-

Katie Abbott:                Or a Surgeon General.

Chris Riback:                 Or a Surgeon General, or a Vice Mayor.

Katie Abbott:                Or a NASA astronaut. We’ve one of those.

Chris Riback:                 You have one of those?

Katie Abbott:                Yes.

Chris Riback:                 Or a Vice Mayor of Pinecrest.

Katie Abbott:                Or a Vice Mayor of Pinecrest.

Chris Riback:                 Thank you so much for joining us today.

Katie Abbott:                Thank you so much. This was great.


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