Saying that the students are our future is a little bit like saying that we trust gravity to hold us to the earth. Students are our future is the truth, but that in and of itself is not profound. The future will occur and those students will be a part of it no matter what. They will outlive us, plain and simple. The meaning of this statement only hits home when you realize that the students know this too. They are waiting for us to empower and let them assume their rightful place as stewards of a future that we would actually want to take part in, a future that is worth sticking around for.
When I hear someone say that students are our future, I want to hear a sense of urgency in their voice. I want the next sentence to be about student ownership of the future and our responsibility for doing right by them. I want that forward looking statement to be backed up, and require students to actually proclaim the future as theirs.
On Thursday night of last week, I saw exactly that. At the DPS Foundation Achieve Gala students were front and center the whole time. They gave the keynotes they were featured in the amazing videos. They were the focus. In talking to a number of the student board of education members, I saw that students were living out the future, simultaneously reaching out for it and achieving it.
And, there were 1100 people who bore witness. 1100 people who saw students as the center of what DPS is all about. They saw students in control of their own destinies and by extension the destiny of the great city of Denver.
Among these student leaders, I had the pleasure to meet three individuals from East High School, West Legacy and from Montebello.
Each student had different story to tell how they were empowered. Each story was one of adults getting out of the way. Each story was of the students taking the responsibility of creating the future on to themselves.
One student talked about how the ninth graders in her school couldn’t see the finish line. She talked about them becoming discouraged and not having the role models to help them graduate. And, then she spoke about getting together with 33 juniors and seniors to bring together the splintered family that is West High School. These students will not only help 9th graders to be connected to something bigger than one year of school, they will help each other in the essential act of building community.
A second student talked about the connections they were making in a daily announcement circle. The simple act of making sure that all students know about the opportunities available is powerful. They are encouraging the type of engagement that begets engagement. They aren’t just talking about the “current events” of the school, but rather revealing just how students can help to make the memories that determine the next steps.
The last student I spoke with focused on something literally called the Future Center. It is the place where students can go to learn about and plan their own future. It is incredible that such a place exists, a Future Center within a school, encouraging and empowering students to become a part of it.
We know that students are the future, but they have to see it that way too. It isn’t enough that we know. They have to know it and live it. These students clearly do know this. We have proved it to them through organizations like the DPS foundation, where we show our support of their stewardship of our collective future.