As the City of Dublin (GA) Youth Council Mayor and a NLC Youth Leader, Darrius Knight is working to help adults and youths better understand each other. The key is communication. He also advocates for prison reform.
For many high school students across the country, the pandemic resulted in Zoom classes, missed milestones and an increase in mental health concerns. As a member of the Austin Youth Council—as well as NLC’s Council on Youth, Education and Families— Ann Vadakkan advocates not just for youth empowerment, but also for youth mental wellness, raising awareness to help reduce any stigma.
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.
Willie Lightfoot is a Rochester (NY) City Councilmember. He’s also a longtime barber. And it’s in both roles that he has made an impact on early learning. As Lightfoot explains, the time when a child waits for a haircut makes for an outstanding opportunity to read. It’s just one of the lessons one can take from Lightfoot’s chair, including his common reminder to be positive.
Senior Executive and Director of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families, Dr. Robert Blaine, says the institute works on many levels: specific programs, cities themselves and the wider population, all to increase outcomes and build more opportunity for children and families. Dr. Blaine’s role also carries an additional benefit: working with the inspiring youth leaders. It’s a blend that requires the skills of an orchestra conductor... and it turns out, Dr. Blaine has those, too.
How important are strong early learning programs for College Park, MD? As Mayor Patrick Wojahn describes it, as home to the University of Maryland’s flagship campus, their daytime population is about twice the regular resident population – “so we are heavily reliant on the nearby community for childcare and pre-K programs.”
Kathy Maness has observed and engaged in education from many directions: as a teacher, executive, NLC President, Lexington (SC) City Councilmember and a parent. She knows how difficult Covid has been on early education, including young learners who had to start school without entering an actual classroom. That’s among the reasons Maness calls for local elected officials and communities to lift up their teachers to provide the support needed to build America’s early learning programs to full strength.
Demetrus Coonrod’s path to Chattanooga’s City Council had obstacles, including time in prison. But her personal journal also serves as a guiding path for others, showing the power of resilience, belief in oneself and education.
Like many urban centers, Baltimore has seen its share of violence. And incarceration. That’s just one reason why City Councilmember Zeke Cohen feels that the way to help people build strong lives begins not when they’re adults, but as children. As Cohen says, “We either invest early on where we know every dollar we spend in the high quality early learning space pays huge dividends down the road or we pay for it on the back end.”
For years, Hartford (CT) has been recognized as a leading city in early childhood learning. As Mayor Luke Bronin describes, the results come from a committed community, dedicated civic resources, including a Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation, with a division specifically focused on early child development – and the willingness to accelerate good ideas no matter where they come from. It starts, he says, by “working closely with families.”