Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Look into the Future for Young People: Gallup Student Poll Results 2009-2010

What do young people hope for? What do they look forward to in the future? Are they ready for the future? The Gallup Student Poll sought to answer these questions by polling approximately 450,000 students in America between the ages of 10-18, asking about their daily experiences and hopes for the future.

What constitutes “being ready for the future” exactly? The poll defined this as “being hopeful, and engaged, and thriving (i.e., the highest classification of well-being),” and came to the conclusion that one-third of young people in America are ready for the future. Meanwhile, another one-third are defined as “stuck” and 16% are “discouraged.” A part of the “stuck” or “discouraged” feelings may come as a result of a lack of engagement at school—meaning that a student is not maximizing their full academic potential—23% of students reported a lack of academic engagement, and an additional 14% reported being actively disengaged (what most of us would refer to as the school “troublemakers” according to the report).

What does this tell us? The poll suggests that youth engagement in school peaks in elementary school, but come middle school and high school, higher percentages of young people are no longer as interested in academics and learning as before. Interest in academics is only one aspect of how the poll measures student readiness for the future; however it is important to examine why it is an area that seems harder to keep high percentages in.

Even though the poll only focused on American students, countries worldwide often cite lack of education or educational opportunities as the main reason for high unemployment rates, and other forms of social unrest. In this case, the Gallup Poll shows an example of how low engagement in the classroom can directly affect how they feel about their futures. Many arguments have been made that a solution to this is the promotion of service-learning, and point to the positive connection between participation in service-learning and students’ connection to their community and their school.

Furthermore, students who participate in high quality service-learning programs show a greater increase in measures of school engagement and achievement in mathematics over control groups. Several studies show that students who engage in service-learning have higher attendance rates than control group peers. Of course the poll examines other aspects that make up the livelihood of a young person, such as well-being and hope, and while the poll cited that 70% of students are thriving, it is our civic responsibility to not let the other 30% slip through the cracks.

Here at ICP, our Summer of Service (SOS) program intends to address this exact issue by advocating service-learning. During the months when school is out, young people are at risk for becoming actively disengaged due to a lack of programs or activities for them. The target age group for SOS is young people who are in middle school, the same age which the Gallup Poll cites as the time engagement begins to drop. For reasons such as these, SOS aims to actively engage young people through service-learning and volunteerism, which they can do through a number of different ways.

In particular, one apparatus ICP will soon offer is the program design toolkit, -which provides the foundation for organizations or individuals to design and implement SOS programs in their respective communities. Additionally, ICP will also soon offer an Evaluation Toolkit, -which will allow those who have implemented SOS programs to effectively evaluate and track their progress and results.

Overall, it is clear that there is a need to engage young people regardless of age or school-level. The important part is that we all do our part to implement or support these sort of initiatives, so we can promote the well-being, livelihood and engagement of the future generation.

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