Proving that change agents have no minimal age requirementPosted: December 8, 2011
By Lindsey Ardrey
Last year as an Americorps VISTA volunteer I was presented with the opportunity to coordinate a program within Western Kentucky University’s Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility that my supervisor described as having the potential to change our youths’ lives. A program that would allow the university students I would lead, and myself, to marry our life’s passion and ambition for creating dynamic sustainable change within our communities to our academic pursuits. After leaving a graduate program that left me yearning for fulfillment and forced me to adjust my life and career goals, I was more than pleased to accept the offer. Quickly, I became well versed in Public Achievement’s core concepts of democracy, diversity, and freedom. Its will to empower youth and create cultural change within our communities—a program that encouraged youth to become civic co-creators of their own worlds.
In Spring 2011, we partnered with two schools within the Bowling Green Independent School District to launch a pilot program. Right away, Public Achievement’s uniqueness stood out. Within the first several meetings, group members of two third grade groups and one tenth grade group, each composed of six students, were asked by their university student coaches what they cared about. For many of them, this was the first time they had been asked about their interests. As the semester advanced, each group embarked on their own public work project. One on playground litter, another for animal rights and cruelty, and the other to end poverty in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Third grade students began identifying their own leadership and public speaking skills after speaking with a veterinarian and appearing on their school news. And our high school students saw their most significant project development when they depended on themselves rather than their coaches to get work done. Work to build a viable and sustainable mentoring program within an elementary school represented by lower socioeconomic status students.
As coordinator, I act as the coaches’ coach. Assisting our university coaches to become vehicles for cultural change and youth empowerment, which also means searching for my own power within. And now as a coach for a third grade group along with my coordinating responsibilities, I am constantly challenged to successfully engage students often overlooked in the classroom. We often say that public work is hard work. Exhausting work to be exact. But I have found nothing more satisfying than knowing that I had a hand in youth achieving their goals and proving others wrong. Proving that change agents have no minimal age requirement. Raising a generation immune to collective passivity and building producers rather than consumers of our democracy.
As a graduate assistant at Western Kentucky University’s Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility, Lindsey Ardrey coordinates the Public Achievement program. She currently pursues a Master of Arts degree in the Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities program with an emphasis in the Black community.