I love the work I do. Today, I write books, give speeches and teach adults and young people how to change the world. I also work as a youth consultant for nonprofits, government agencies, foundations and organizations across the United States and around the world. However, I didn’t just begin start doing that out of the blue. Here’s my professional biography, including the beginning of my work more than 20 years ago.
When I Was Young
My professional work with youth began in 1989 when I was 14 with a local nonprofit in North Omaha, Nebraska. I worked for them over the next 7 years teaching drama programs and leading after school programs and a basketball program. My activism began when I was 15 when I started an environmental justice group at my high school as a protest against the existing science club. My systems change efforts focused on meaningful youth involvement started when I was young, as well, founding a youth council for my neighborhood when I was 17. I have continued working both inside and outside of systems since.
By The Numbers
Since 1998 I have worked with approximately 50,000 children, youth and adults, focusing on youth engagement, meaningful student involvement, community organizing and service learning. Through a variety of speaking, professional development, training and program development activities. My activities have reached almost 250 elementary, middle and high schools, along with more than 300 nonprofit organizations across the United States and Canada, and in United Kingdom and Brazil. I have consulted more than 100 schools on how to effectively infuse youth voice in service learning. Aside from schools and nonprofits, I have also worked with foundations, government agencies, colleges and universities, publishing companies, and other organizations. My writing has included more than 100 different items, including educational materials, website content, curricula, training manuals, promotional materials, grant proposals and evaluation reports. After founding The Freechild Project in 2001 and SoundOut in 2002 I began working with clients locally, nationally and internationally. I have written extensively for both websites, developing site navigation, content, and publications to offer specifically to their target audiences. I have used social media extensively for Freechild, incorporating Facebook, Twitter and other platforms into the fray. I have designed projects, written guides, evaluated programs, and provided an array of public speaking, professional development, youth training, consulting and technical assistance to thousands of children, youth and adults since then. I also founded a national nonprofit organization in 2005 that was focused on youth engaging, serving as the executive director for two years. Working with a variety of volunteers and professional partners, I obtained 501(c)3 status from the IRS, established a variety of local, national and international relations, upheld professional obligations, and secured a variety of funding supports.
Focusing on Schools
My work in the area of school improvement has continued to grow over the last 10 years. As the founding director of SoundOut, I am an internationally-recognized thought leader regarding student voice. My research and writing about schools has been cited more than 1,000 in peer-reviewed journals, the media and government reports. I have also presented hundreds of workshops about student voice, Meaningful Student Involvement and student engagement in dozens of districts, states and provinces across North America. My efforts began when I served as the first-ever Student Engagement Specialist at the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction starting in 2001. There I developed and led a statewide action research project focused on engaging students as partners in education decision-making in state-level administrative processes and school improvement planning. I developed an introductory guide and a website for the state, as well. After completing my bachelor’s degree focused on critical pedagogy, youth studies and community development at The Evergreen State College, in 2006 I began my graduate studies in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Washington College of Education. From 2008 to 2010, I worked as the Coordinated School Health Manager at the Washington State Department of Health where I was a liaison between the DOH and the state education agency, facilitating interagency collaboration focused on an array of school health issues. I am also the agency’s lead school health policy analyst, leading agency-wide reviews of state and federal legislation and rule-making. As the co-founder and co-coordinator of the Washington State Coordinated School Health Network, I facilitated professional development, technical assistance, and information-sharing activities for a variety of partners in K-12 schools, districts, within state agencies and at local health departments across Washington. I was also co-coordinator of the Washington Youth School Health Cadre, the co-chair of Washington Action for Healthy Kids, and the coordinator of Students Taking Charge, a student-driven school health improvement program working in several schools across the state.
I have served several terms of community and national service. In 2000 I participated in a fellowship program for the Points of Light Foundation and was the Youth Engaged in Service Ambassador for Washington State. My service in AmeriCorps ended with a term as an AmeriCorps Leader with the Corporation for National Service lasted from 1999-00. In that capacity I worked with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Taos, New Mexico. My terms as an AmeriCorps Member included an individual placement running a ropes challenge course on the Hood Canal for the Washington Service Corps out of Tacoma, Washington and as an AmeriCorps Member with the Changing Trends AmeriCorps Program in Lincoln, Nebraska. In that term I created a tutoring and mentoring program for Kurdish and Iraqi refugee students.
Outdoor education, team building, and experiential learning were a major area of emphasis early in my career. My first work as a ropes challenge course director was for Boy Scout Camp Cornhusker in DuBois, Nebraska in 1996. For two years I worked as a Teacher/Naturalist at Pioneer Park Nature Center in Lincoln, Nebraska from 1996 to 1998. I was a Ropes Challenge Course Director Certification Instructor at the National Camping School in Spokane, Washington in 1998, and operated the COPE Course at Camp Hahobas in Belfair, Washington, for two years. I directed summer nature programs at Camp Cedars in Fremont, Nebraska, and Camp Kitaki in Louisville, Nebraska prior to that.
More Than the Movement
Other youth work I have done has included operating a youth center for the City of Tumwater, Washington, in 1998 and 1999. While I was there, I supervised staff who built recreation, mentoring and empowerment programs for middle class white youth in a suburban city in the Pacific Northwest. In the Midwest, from 1995 to 1997 I worked as an Independent Living Skills Instructor for the YWCA in Lincoln, Nebraska. That program served foster youth, homeless youth and other young people who were at risk of independent living before adulthood. I was also a Teen Floor Attendant for a drug treatment facility operated by CentrePointe, Inc. in Lincoln, Nebraska. There, my responsibilities included supervising the moment-by-moment movement of client youth, mediating peer-to-peer challenges and encouraging youth growth and development in everyday situations.
Volunteering for Change
This is my professional biography. Critical reflection and constant sustained connection with young people and adults who do this have allowed me to stay grounded in my history while encouraging me to reach beyond my expectations and understandings. I love sharing what I do with others; contact me to learn more!