By: Lauren Herman
From the Editor: Labeled as the “me” generation, millennials are often generalized as lazy, self-absorbed, and obsessed with selfies, friending one another on Facebook, and tweeting their opinions. But, like any previous generation, millennials are more than the labels used in the media to group hundred of thousand Americans into one cohesive “me-centric” stereotype.
In our Sacramento community, the following individuals featured in this blog series are the antithesis to the argument that millennials just don’t care. May their stories make you think twice about what it means to be a part of the “m” generation.
Choua Yang - Sacramentan Millennial: Beyond Standardization in Public Education
At a young age, Choua Yang immigrated to Sacramento with her parents from Laos. Considering herself still a Sacramentan to this day, she recalls her transition to the Capital Region as a journey based in community, family, and education that she now takes to her current job in the Sacramento City United School District.
Working in partnership with the district as an Associate Director at the Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center, Choua serves as coordinator of the After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) program for the five large comprehensive Sacramento high schools. Within ASSETs, she works alongside students, educators, administrators, and local governance to ensure she maintains what she describes as a “meaningful” place outside the classroom for youth within the public education system. It is her dream to work as an “adult ally” within the very same education system that helped her become the person she is today.
Choua reflects, “After college, I initially wanted to go to graduate school to become a high school counselor, but districts were laying off counselors along with many other educators. I still wanted to work in education and be in the front line, so I began as a part-time Team Leader in the afterschool program. I had so much fun and have stayed ever since.”
Choua is an asset herself showing high school students what is possible with community support. Her diverse cultural and socioeconomic background, attendance in the Sacramento Unified School District, and knowledge of what is necessary for young adults to succeed in college and beyond are all factors make her an asset.
Her greatest advantage in this new field of education management is living and working in Sacramento without taking the freeway to work. Parents and students see her at their neighborhood grocery stores and community events. Choua considers herself a member of their community.
With this, Choua strives to make the ASSETs program more than an afterschool program; it is a high school center dedicated to the continuing evolution of educational, emotional, and physical development for teens that cannot be meet or measured by standardized tests and curriculum.
“I envision this program as a glimpse into higher education opportunities. Colleges don’t close at 3pm and libraries stay open almost 24 hours a day. But high schools close at 3:00pm and staff go home, expecting students to leave campus and study elsewhere. Districts cannot provide access to 21st century learning and technology to all students. Because of this gap, I was not prepared for college. I want to make sure high school students can utilize their campuses like colleges,” Choua says.
Though not the sole solution for reducing high school drop out rates or college preparations, ASSETs is the start of a long process to keep teens engaged with their own educational journey – both inside and outside the classroom.
Continuing the Discussion of Public Education
Choua is not an anomaly of any generation. That is the reason why her story is important. She is representative of a trend among current and past generations concerned with California’s public education system. Education has been a huge concern for young Californians for generations – Baby Boomer, Gen Xers and now Millennials.
Born in Laos and raised in Sacramento, Choua considers herself a 1.5 generation because growing up she had to translate for her parents and ensure her younger siblings received quality education. Working on the front lines of ASSETs, Choua has been able to bridge the gap between many parents and their students due to cultural and generational differences.
It is the recent millennial generation that is carrying the torch for public education and bringing to discussion the rise of tuition, persistent budget cuts, oversized classrooms, elimination of extra curriculum activities - all structural changes that are needed to preserve and advance public education for all.
If trends in college enrollment among millennials continue, they are expected to be the most educated generation, but it is not proving worthwhile to many with low employment and rising debt among recent graduates.
Those who have been on the public education forefront are the faculty, teachers, students, parents, administration, and elected officials, but Choua brings her story to you to spark public interest, your interest, in public education that goes beyond the ballot box.
Choua brings this conversation to the table for Sacramento to piece out, so we do not forget the need to be informed and aware of what is happening in public education whether its our elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, community colleges, or the State and University of California systems.
Public education cannot exist without public participation, especially regarding the use of taxpayer dollars in funding education for our communities. Participation and awareness come in many forms. Choua found her place and stance on the topic of education. Have you found yours? Without quality and accessible public education - a public good for all Californians - Sacramento cannot exist for you and me.
Interested in learning about and sharing more ideas worth spreading? Register for the upcoming TEDxSacramento "THIS Changes EVERYTHING!" on June 12, 2015. Join thousands of fellow Sacramentans at the biggest TEDxSacramento conference ever!