|County's Students Inspired To 'Envision Their Future' At Youth Conference|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
11:31AM / Saturday, April 08, 2017
|The students got to explore an array of careers through the offered workshops.|
Some of the workshops got the students more in touch with their artistic side, while others taught students about job-searching resources available in the community.
PITTSFIELD, Mass, — The morning started with a "when I was your age" type story from children's author Ty Allan Jackson.
Jackson was speaking over the sound of the rain beating on the top of a large party tent. His audience: just about 120 high school students from across the county. When he was their age, the ghettos of New York City had broken education systems, there were issues of poverty and crime. And nobody was listening to the what those in the neighborhood had to say.
It was those poor inner-city children who created their own form of communication: hip hop. The music genre grew from the impoverished neighborhoods to a global staple.
"The whole world would listen because it had no choice. Soon even white kids from all around the country were listening to the music we created, dressing the way we dressed, talking like we talked. It eventually went to China, Germany, India, literally everywhere around the world," Jackson said. "Today, hip hop is a global, multibillion dollar business. It influences the music we listen to, the shows we watch, the products we buy. It all started with a bunch of poor, disenfranchised inner-city kids who felt they didn't have a voice in the world and decided to take destiny into their own hands."
That story is how a group of people changed their entire world -- what they did, the environment they lived, and everything around them. Jackson called on the students to do the same in the future. He encouraged them to do things they loved, make money, find success, and create the future.
That was the theme for Thursday at Hancock Shaker Village. Many in high school don't know what their future holds. They can be nervous and unsure. It won't be long before they leave the high school setting and become adults.
On Thursday, they got a peak at what else is out there through the annual 411 in the 413 Youth Conference.
"Every year, we have a different theme that influences our keynote and influences our workshops to a certain degree. This year it was 'envision your future.' The idea was to envision what you would really like to be in the future, what you'd like the world to be in the future, envision yourself and what role you take in that vision of the future," Tim Shiebler, program coordinator at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, said.
This is the 11th time the conference was held through a collaborative agreement -- the Berkshire Youth Development Project. Nataly Garzon, positive youth development coordinator for the Berkshire United Way; Ari Cameron, youth operational board and special projects coordinator at the Railroad Street Youth Project, and Shiebler organized it this year.
"It is really youth driven. Each of us has interns and we worked collaboratively starting in the fall to ask them about their interest and what they really like in the Berkshires to identify potential workshops," Garzon said.
Each school has 10 slots available to send students to the conference. The organizers worked with interns and held focus groups to determine what careers the students would be interested in learning more about.
They could choose the learn about growing mushrooms, or art, or medicinal herbs, 3D printing, public speaking, race and education issues, hunger issues, communication, and more. And they could choose from lessons on getting into college, financial literacy, job searching and career planning, healthy eating and stress relief.
"One track that really came through from our youth is they wanted to build up their skills to succeed in life. We have a track of workshops under the umbrella of 'adulting.' So, how to be financially literate; skills they need to know in order to survive as adults," Garzon said.
Garzon said another overarching theme was career exploration, giving the students tastes of career paths they may not have been exposed to in a traditional classroom setting.
Some of the presenters are new, some are returning. The conference added workshops this year with an influx of additional students. Cameron said there were some 35 more in attendance this year that last, and two new schools -- Simon's Rock and Miss Hall's School -- sent students. Overall there were 119 students from 14 different high schools -- from North County to South County.
"We want to continue to grow and invite as many schools both public and private in Berkshire County as we continue to move through this and really connect folks along those lines," Cameron said.
About two dozen Berkshire County professionals volunteered their time to run the workshops on the various careers with the students.
The organizers say each school has different processes in choosing the student who can attend -- some have to volunteer, others are chosen. The daylong program is open to all student in the high school grades.
"We know that folks are often separated north, south, and central, and this is an opportunity for young people to connect with each other across the county and experience things they might otherwise have access to learning about in school," Cameron said.
The organizers work with their interns, also high schoolers, to develop possible workshop ideas. They hold focus groups to find out what ideas the students actually want to learn about and then develop a program. All of the presenters were volunteers, people from the community with certain expertise.
"It was about who we already had relationships with and some of the suggestions came directly from the youth," Shiebler said.
The youth started the day listening to Jackson -- and not just the story of hip hop but his own career story as well -- and then attended three workshops of their choosing. The day had a mix of inspiration, rallying, and then practicality. The organizers hope the students left Thursday with more excitement about their futures.
"I would love to hear each student coming away from this really excited about one thing they learned," Cameron said.