FutureMakers Student Voice Summit addresses educational barriers with student feedback
WATCH: Go behind-the-scenes of the 2022 FutureMakers Student Voice Summit
Janie Vaca, a 10th-grader at Immokalee High School, is attending the FutureMakers Coalition’s Student Voice Summit this year alongside 50 other 9th through 11th grade students from Southwest Florida.
At 15, she is already worried about how she can afford college and feels there is a lack of access to scholarship information at her school.
“In our high school, college and career readiness, that isn't really accessible until you are a senior in high school. I think to kind of, like, relieve the stress off our seniors is to introduce it earlier, like, as early as freshman year,” said Vaca.
The yearly summit works directly with students to discover what challenges they are facing as they prepare for post-secondary education and starting their careers.
Tessa LeSage is director of the FutureMakers Coalition at the Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers. She says the Coalition is focused on transforming and filling in-demand jobs across Southwest Florida.
The goal is to increase the number of degrees, certificates, and credentials from 42 to 55 percent by 2025 for adults aged 25 to 64. And one way to achieve that is by hearing directly from students.
“We created this event because we firmly believe that the folks who are experiencing the system have to be part of finding the solutions to making that system work better.”
During the summit, students are split into groups and visit various themed rooms. One room lets students explore data from past student summits, another focuses on work/life balance and there are rooms dedicated to discussing educational barriers and allowing time to propose possible solutions.
One room focused on Janie Vaca’s concern, paying for college.
LeSage explains that one solution is educating students about what resources are available in terms of financial aid.
“We leave millions of dollars on the table every year in financial aid," said LeSage. "We need to make sure that our students are taking advantage of that, because we don't want financial issues to be the barrier to a good education.”
According to the Florida Policy Institute, last year, Florida students left more than $304 million in Pell Grants unclaimed. The state also ranks 48th in the U.S. for its FAFSA completion rate.
Sofie Ortiz is a 10th-grader at North Fort Myers High School and is Sophomore Class President. Like Vaca, she is concerned about accruing student loan debt and says her parent’s student debt motivates her to think about financial stability now.
“That's something that I have to consider," said Ortiz. "How I don't want to be in that. So, I'm working towards getting my 100 hours for Bright Futures. I'm tracking it. I'm going through it and figuring out what can I do to make sure that I'm not in that debt.”
Other issues students shared were a lack of communication from their schools. Jason Teeters is the Nurturing Lead at The Collaboratory and ran the problems room during the Student Voice Summit.
But he says the problems are actually opportunities to share the student experience with community leaders.
“There's some really impactful information that these young people shared today that oftentimes doesn't require a lot of funding and money to move things forward," said Teeters.
"But oftentimes from what I heard from the students, just someone to listen to them and someone to really navigate them and help them think about the best way to pursue their paths and to be motivated in such a way to do that.”
Data from this year’s FutureMakers Coalition Students Voice Summit will be shared during the coalition's Breakfast of Champions on Thursday, September 15, bringing the students' voices directly to the community leaders who can help make changes for a better future.
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