“I’d like to find a better way to help the people, not just cure the pain, but heal their lives.”
-Adam Strong, 20
YouthBuild Hazard (Jackson, KY)
Last week Secretary Arne Duncan’s conference room was filled with a unique crowd of delegates from YouthBuild USA Rural and Tribal Initiative. The conversation between Secretary Duncan and the students was part of an ongoing Student Voices series where Duncan meets with students from around the country. This particular meeting focused on learning from rural and tribal youth about their experience and how ED’s policies can better help them achieve their potential.
YouthBuild USA, is a program where low-income students rebuild their lives and communities by getting their high school diploma or GED, while working full time.
The student’s spoke of dreams, challenged by sobering realities. Students told Arne about their difficulties with transportation, finding money and information to continue their education, their family demands and personal struggles. They were happy to come to Washington D.C. so that the Secretary could “hear our stories.”
These youth want to build their ability to make a difference for themselves and for those they care about.
Adam Strong, Graduate of YouthBuild Hazard in Jackson, KY, told of growing up in a community where prescription drug addiction runs rampant.
Adam’s response? He will pursue a degree in pharmacy at North Shore Technical College to help doctors become more aware of the severe consequences of the over prescription of drugs.
“It’s OK for people to take pain medicine,” Adam said. “Just not every day.” He explained to Secretary Duncan that “education not only gives me the tools necessary to accomplish these goals but has helped me articulate my own vision of the world and how it should be.”
Arne leaned forward to really listen to these young people. He asked questions and answered them freely. “This is informal,” he said, “tell me what you have on your minds.”
“What about if we go to college and then there are no jobs?” asked Reva Little Moon from Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
“That’s a little tough today, but it’s about learning to see things long term,” said Arne. “You have to look over the horizon. We’re working on a lot of things here to make things better.”
These youth leaders are creating thoughtful solutions, despite the challenges they face. They came to Washington to express their concerns and to spell out their triumphs. They were heard.
Samuel Ryan is a Program Specialist at the U.S. Department of Education.