By Kara Casy,
Director of Urban Agriculture and Renewable Resources at El Centro College,
We celebrate International Youth Day on August 12th, a day to highlight and encourage the youth in our local and global community. The United Nations defines youth as the age group ranging from 15 to 24. While one-sixth of the world’s population falls into this demographic, are we truly including all youth in the opportunity to create resilient global food systems?
“Well I became pregnant, but I’m back on track now,” were the words I was unable to unhear through my new office phone at El Centro College. I wasn’t the admissions office she was looking for at the community college, as she enthusiastically stated her intentions to return to school. Encouraging, congratulating, and welcoming her back, it was a memorable moment as I transferred her to admissions.
Back on track.
For being in a field as human as education, where we differentiate instruction, we teach to different learning styles, different evaluation styles, in different venues, it struck me as particularly odd in that moment to picture something as equally human as bringing a child into the world derailing that track built exclusively for people.
Higher education is the most reliable track out of poverty. However, in a stinging ironic twist, low-income students encounter more barriers navigating this path all the way to completion.
For youth who are caring for families or loved ones at home, the track seems unyielding. Labs and finals are proctored at specific times, unphased by doctor’s appointments and childcare cancellations.
For low-income students dependent on public transportation, delays on the bus and the train complicate tight scheduling between work, family, and school. The strain can pull students off track as easily as missing that last quiz, that last exam, that last unexcused absence.
As I listened on the other end of the phone, the first teacher to welcome her back to her journey toward higher education, it felt like high time for the track to bend to meet youth where they are as whole people. Thankfully, we are working toward this end at El Centro College.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions STEM grants program, our team is working to open innovative pathways to successful transfer and graduation in STEM field degrees. In addition to making high-quality instruction in agriculture accessible for all Dallas county youth, our college courses are also offered at a fraction of the cost per credit hour.
Implementing strategic interventions like peer mentoring programs and organizing cohorts of learning communities, we’re also building resilient support networks for our students and improving retention rates along the way.
Our institution is truly serving a diverse and strong student body. Many of my students opt for part-time course loads and full-time jobs, trading in extra-curricular activities and club socials for extra working shifts at the local diner. It’s hard to argue that students with such a strong work ethic wouldn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the agricultural industry with a college degree if they’re afforded the flexibility.
AIARD also works to include youth in international agricultural development by hosting the Future Leaders Forum. Having the great fortune of participating in the forum myself, it was a valuable experience to gain insight into the various programs, offices, and agencies that support food security across the globe. With the freedom to ask any question, especially that most important question, “How did you start working here?” gave our cohort a new perspective to help inform our next crucial steps onto the job market.
On this International Youth Day, please consider how your team can begin implementing bends in your own tracks and agricultural programs to support and include a more diverse representation of all this demographic has to offer.
The mission of the AIARD BLOG
The mission of the AIARD Blog is to highlight and share thoughts, ideas and work from people who have devoted their careers to global agricultural development and hunger alleviation.