Before we begin to discuss and explore youth empowerment and its connection to character development, we need to recognize the pervasive impact of social barriers to youth engagement. We need to acknowledge that those who most often thrive in the school system are students with various forms of privilege. Overcoming, mitigating or at least acknowledging the social barriers to youth engagement faced by so many marginalized students is a major starting point in this work.
We’ve all noticed students in our classes and schools who at times seem tired, bored, withdrawn, agitated, hostile or indifferent to learning. We may consistently observe that while certain students boldly and confidently step up to embrace leadership opportunities, others tend to hold back, shying away from them. We may struggle, with or without success, to engage and interest these students. Many of us are aware that outside (and often inside) of our classrooms and schools, these students are themselves struggling with many additional challenges.
The exciting and enriching diversity that we have the opportunity to celebrate within our schools is often accompanied by hard and painful circumstances for many students. Due to a range of social factors, marginalized students often experience difficulties preventing or impeding their engagement with their education and their school environment. As a consequence of such barriers, the voices of our most marginalized students may at times be the hardest to hear.