By Sammy Miller

Instagram handle: @milleravalon

I am really excited about the work that the Minnesota Youth Story Squad is doing. What attracted me to this project was the fact that the goal is to give students a platform for their voices to be heard. As a society, there’s a lot of trying to shut down the voices of youth, using things like their age or “inexperience” to invalidate their experiences and opinions. I think especially students who are in middle school are more likely to be told to be silent then to be heard.

That’s been my favorite part of this project – connecting and listening to the middle schoolers at Northeast. Just listening to them talking about their lives, their opinions, their reactions to the world around them, and even just telling jokes makes my day. There’s not a lot of time built into the school day where the students can express themselves, especially for the students who don’t really speak up in class.

Image: Intern Sammy (far right) speaking with 4 other students during class.

I have really enjoyed connecting with the quieter students in class one-on-one. In a larger group, they don’t always speak up but as soon as I sit down with them, I hear everything about their world. What’s been important to be is to be able to validate their experiences and feelings. I had students tell me of frustrating things happening at home or at school, things that they may not feel comfortable talking with their teachers or other staff at the school. I really appreciate that they trust us with their stories. I was able to hear students talk about gender and how the student body and administration acts towards LGBT+ students. A student was able to speak with me on what annoyed her about her family life that she knows she could not bring up to her family members. The biggest thing that impacted me was when in one class, in a circle students shared instances of discrimination they’ve faced both inside and outside of the school. It was amazing how vulnerable they were being with us as they shared painful experiences that let us validate how hurtful those experiences were and give them a space to bring up the fact that they were hurt. These students are amazing and I’m so glad I was able to have these moments with them during this project.