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Nothing About Us, Without Us: How Nevada is Engaging Students

Stories from the Field
March 28, 2023

By: Jillian Kuhlmann

In a panel discussion with her peers in front of more than 200 Nevada educators, policymakers and community members last fall, Liz Stephens, a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, surfaced the need to move beyond equality to equity when considering the future of teaching and learning in the state.

“Equality is giving everyone a Band-Aid. I got a cut on my finger, I get a Band-Aid on my finger. He got a cut on his leg, he gets a Band-Aid on his finger. She lost her leg – a Band-Aid on the finger,” said Stephens. “When it comes to educating students, some might not need as much as others. It’s important that different groups have different accommodations and help. Be equitable. Not just equal.”

Student panel of four in front of audience at Nevada's Future of Learning Convening in 2022

The convening where Stephens and other students shared their thoughts was the first time Nevadans gathered in-person to share ideas and strategies around the work of creating the Portrait of a Nevada Learner that asks, “What are the values needed to drive the education system in the state to ensure Nevadans are prepared to live good lives and build thriving communities? What does it mean to prepare learners to embrace the world as it is and navigate the complex challenges and opportunities ahead?”

Nevada is designing a Portrait of a Nevada Learner that can serve as a unifying measure for the state, and, according to State Superintendent Jhone Ebert, leverage the strengths of young people within Nevada to “drive the future and move us all forward.” Learn more »

The process to create the portrait had actually begun months before, with interviews and listening sessions conducted throughout the state. The student panel was a continuation of that effort to ensure that all voices would be elevated and captured.

“To me, a good life is being able to find happiness in just about anything you’re passionate about. Finding happiness in relationships with friends, families,” said Luke Herman, a junior at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, when asked what a good life entailed, what it might mean to thrive. “You’ve got to be happy and positive about life. A thriving community is when a group of people are comfortable together, when they bring positivity to each other. When conflicts arise, people in the community can bring them back together.”

Following the student panel, youth in attendance at the convening were invited to share their feedback through a survey designed just for them. When asked how they felt about designing the future of learning in Nevada in partnership with educators and policymakers, students indicated they felt valued, welcomed and excited. A majority of youth in attendance also indicated they wanted to participate in designing future engagements with Nevada students to participate in this work.

The work to engage students in transforming teaching and learning in the state continues with Spark the Future, a virtual youth series designed to help young people discover and cultivate their passion and vision for the future of learning in Nevada. Workshops will begin in late March of 2023, and encourage participants to consider, “How might we make school different? And how will we get there?”

“We are looking forward to engaging youth in a series of workshops where they will consider who they are as an individual, who they are in their community and who they are in the movement to change school in Nevada,” said Anna Russo, director of community futures with KnowledgeWorks and one of the facilitators for Spark the Future. “Holding true to the belief that ‘nothing about us, without us,’ we are excited to support youth in considering and designing how they will participate in and move forward the work in Nevada to change school for them, their peers and future learners.”

For Tarrance Bynum, a senior at Veterans Tribute High School, school is a place for making meaningful connections with others.

“School shows us how to love one another, even when we don’t want to because it’s seven in the morning,” said Bynum, with a laugh. He cited mental health, safety and women’s rights among the things he cares most about. “We all need to care about each other’s safety like we do our own.”

For Stephens, there’s hope for the future – and she shared the stage with that hope.

“Youth are the future. We can accomplish amazing things.”

A student-led initiative to change Seneca Valley School District’s Indigenous mascot failed in 2000 – but now a new group of students have succeeded.


Jillian Kuhlmann
Senior Manager of Communications

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