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Secretary Duncan Hosts First Meeting with National Council of Young Leaders

They are resilient. They are smart. They are united. They have beaten the odds and last week, six leaders from the National Council of Young Leaders met with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Deb Delisle, the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, to share their recommendations for increasing opportunities for youth and decreasing poverty.

The National Council of Young Leaders is a newly established council with a diverse group of young people who advise policy makers, business leaders and foundations on issues affecting low-income youth and their communities.  The council, which launched on September 19, has 14 founding members ranging in ages from 18-34 and representing both urban and rural low- income areas. Secretary Duncan encouraged the students to be straight forward, “We’re always trying to have a real candid conversation about what we’re doing well, and what we’re not doing well,” he said.  “We feel this huge sense of urgency to improve what’s going on around the country.”

In August and September, the council researched issues and used their personal experiences to create a comprehensive list of six recommendations they believe will help create safe, welcoming, opportunity-rich communities for every child born in America. Their Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America include:

  1. Expand effective comprehensive programs
  2. Expand national service
  3. Expand private internships
  4. Increase all forms of mentoring
  5. Protect and expand pathways to higher education
  6. Reform the criminal justice system

Ending the school-to-prison pipeline was of great concern to the council. Ladine Daniels shared his experience of struggling to re-enter society having been through the school-to-prison pipeline: “One of my biggest problems with the criminal justice system,” Daniels explained “is that too often the time doesn’t fit the crime and we don’t have a lot of opportunities when we get out of jail because we’re still looked upon as criminals.”

What kept Daniels from re-incarceration was a mentor who introduced him to the “Pathways to a Green Economy” program.  The program provides people who are ex-offenders, a single parent, or low-income with the opportunity to learn marketable skills for the green economy.  Secretary Duncan mentioned the restorative justice concept, emphasizing repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior, which is incorporated in ED’s Correctional Education work.

Council member, Anays Antongiorgi, discussed the importance of keeping students engaged in school by providing them with a culturally relevant curriculum and high-quality teachers who are passionate, culturally competent and incorporate strengths-based youth development in their approaches to teaching. "I had two teachers that were very caring, however they were teaching 200+ students so they didn’t have time to provide me with individual attention,” Antongiorgi said. “Nor did they provide classroom materials that supported my learning style.”

In reflecting on the meeting, Secretary Duncan noted that “it is powerful to see a Council with [a] different mix of people ethnically and geographically-rural, urban, suburban speak with one voice, even though you don’t agree on everything.  You are all leaders and could teach us here in Washington a thing or two.”

Read the Council’s policy call to action Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America.

Read more about the National Council of Young Leaders and read bios of each council member.