The Gift of Listening

Steven Sondheim wrote the lyrics “Careful the things you say, children will listen.” These words, poignantly sung by the Witch in his fairy tale epic Into the Woods, speak so much truth to the importance of education as a major influence in our children’s lives and futures. The things adults do and say mold children into the adults they will soon be, but how often are we charged with listening to them? This is a question that many people fail to ask themselves, which is why the “Helping the Leaders of Tomorrow” breakout session was a deeply impactful experience at The Broad Center Forum 2019.

In this breakout session, network members had the opportunity to work with high school seniors from Environmental Charter High School in Los Angeles on their senior projects. These projects ranged in topic and scale, but each project was a student-driven initiative to address a social or environmental injustice they saw within their community. They’re charged to research, investigate, interview, and work through every element of implementing their project, that is within reason. This is more than just a capstone, it is a call to action to the students to get involved and act on ideas they’ve produced.

At round tables, the young scholars outlined their various projects to The Broad Center network members and staff sitting with them, where they spoke of increasing fine arts opportunities for students and adding infrastructure for shade and shelter in the lunch area. One of the things that made these projects so special was how much passion each student had about the work he or she was pursuing. It was clear how much it meant to them that their voices were being considered at their school. Moreover, having a chance to critically think through their problems with education professionals gave the students a chance to be challenged in a way they haven’t been with this work yet. It was a chance to test their most radical ideas and get feedback from people who work in education at a high level every day. It was a truly impactful meeting of the minds.

Taking the time to listen to these students’ ideas and appreciate the work that they’ve done was an inspiring experience. It reminded me to never underestimate the power of listening to others, especially our youth. Not only do their perspectives often add to the conversations, but sharing empowers them to always find their voices. The students left with feedback, new contacts to add to their network, and leftover snacks (of course!), but the true takeaway was a gift that everyone who participated received: a shared experience in the development of our future leaders.

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