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Inspired by a Generation Stepping Up to Improve K-12 Education

September 21, 2021
Emory Edwards
At EdChoice, I see firsthand how engaged communities can improve access to quality schools

Hope. That inspires my work to expand school choice for families who feel their voices haven’t been heard amid the clamor of education policymaking, and whose children’s needs haven’t been met.

When parents and families become engaged in changing the future of education, they can see their efforts reflected in better policy, better school choices and better results for their students. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it. Their hope renews.

I’ve seen this optimism grow in my role as senior outreach director with EdChoice in Indianapolis. Our work is about building for the future.

By definition, my job is to forge and strengthen relationships with communities so families have more power to choose the education that best suits their kids. It’s about building trust with parents who have school-age students right now — and with future parents whose children will be impacted by education policy made today.

Emory Edwards is senior outreach director with EdChoice.

Right now, when you consider who will be most impacted by improving access to quality education, it’s Millennials.

They’re the generation starting to raise families. They are concerned about how the future of education will look — and they want to ensure that when they have kids, they are going to be in a system that truly benefits them.

Millennials are young enough to remember what worked in school, what didn’t and what needs to be improved. So I place a priority on engaging them early; helping them understand how the system works and how they can be effective advocates for change.

This generation has had a choice about almost every aspect of their lives. They are probably the most open to choice in education. They want to be able to decide what school works best for them. They don't want the standard K-12 system that we see today.

As much as I am inspired by hope, I am also inspired by action.

We work a lot with minority communities who are interested in having access to more high-quality education, building proficiency in areas like math, and making sure teachers are truly connecting with their students. They know how important it is for their communities to be authentically engaged around education.

In those communities, I also hear concerns about inequality and lack of equity in school funding. Parents want access to all forms of choice for their kids. They see inequity in funding for schools in the suburbs versus urban schools — and are wondering why. A lot of Millennials are living in, and starting families in, urban neighborhoods. They’re not quite ready for the suburbs. Once they have more information on how education funding typically works, they believe education funding should follow the student, and the school you attend should not be driven by the area in which they live.

EdChoice convened a symposium in July on reimagining education and how to engage Millennials in authentic conversations about educational choice.

As much I am inspired by hope, I am also inspired by action.

We recently convened a group of about 20 young professionals from across the country for a symposium on reimagining education and how to engage Millennials in authentic conversations about educational choice.

What happened next? Within a few days, they started making plans to travel to Indianapolis to visit a few charter and private schools that were mentioned during the symposium. They created a GroupMe. They created Slack channels to continue conversations about topics they had discussed during the symposium and to support each other as they launch their own conversations in their respective communities.

We know it can take a long time to change systems. Just seeing the energy and conviction of these young people — and their commitment to helping their communities — motivates me to keep doing this work.

This article was adapted from a recent panel discussion hosted by the Walton Family Foundation on the power of community-driven change.

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