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What Happens When You Let Teens Run the Show

They step up, step in, and side-step. Sometimes they dance. Or skip. Or simply dip a toe in. And once in a while they'll totally put their foot in it.

And how wonderful is that.

Because when you let teens run the show, they take risks, take ownership, make mistakes, co-create and ultimately they learn. And isn't that what we want for them.

On one stormy Saturday morning in April, after months of planning and organizing, the Clark Street Community School students willing jumped into the deep end by hosting their first ever Y.E.L.L (Youth Empowered Listening & Learning) Conference. Armed with little more than encouragement from Research Partners at the UW School of Human Ecology, and a school full of teachers who chose to believe they could pull it off, a team of student leaders put together a morning to celebrate their school by demonstrating the power of student voice and sharing their experiences of positive youth-adult partnerships.

For those who attended it was an incredible display of student engagement and ownership in learning.

Attendees were invited to hear from student entrepreneurs as they shared their journey in starting two student-led businesses focused on sustainability. Another group taught lessons in chivalry in full knighted armor. There were workshops in hip hop, panel discussions on growing and making salsa, and teens sharing their experiences with Alzheimer's and dementia patients, families, and caregivers volunteering with the WI Music and Memory program.

In addition to an array of student led presentations, several of the University of Wisconsin research partners who have been working with the Clark Street Community School for several years presented their findings. Josset Gauley, PhD discussed his work around student voice and its impact on engagement. Shepard Zeldin, PhD, and a graduate community at the UW School of Human Ecology offered up their learning on youth-adult partnerships and the benefits experienced by the youth, adults, and organizations who create these connections. The research community present at the YELL Conference lauded Clark Street for providing the conditions that promote and support student voice, community and relationship building, and deep learning engagement.

The morning wrapped up with a celebratory luncheon hosted by the Clark Street Community School Governance Board, and several board members shared their stories of growth, determination, and commitment to continuing to provide an innovative laboratory high school for the students and families of the Middleton Cross-Plains Area School District. Assistant Superintendent, Sherri Cyra, commended the work being done at CSCS and highlighted how the learning happening at the school is now impacting the professional development offerings across the district.

The day was such a success that the Clark Street students are already planning for next year's event.

Clearly they're in knee deep.


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2429 Clark St, Middleton, WI 53562, USA

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