Gen Z Influencing Education Policy and What’s Needed for Michigan

The COVID pandemic definitely disrupted the traditional way of learning for students and fostered a different way of teaching. As new pandemic measures were put in practice, it forced everyone, particular a younger generation, to inherit the new world of education but also being the at the table to lead their own ideas to change education policy.

“COVID helped us understand the holistic supports needed inside of schools that are part and parcel to the learning process,” said Angelique Power, president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation, during the annual Mackinac Policy Conference.

“Schools became innovation testing grounds for technology, for food justice and for mental wellness for students and for teachers. Therein reinventing the possibility of what schools might be in the future.”

As for who’s teaching in our schools in the future, a state bill newly introduced would allow 18-21-year-olds to become substitute teachers with barely any to no college courses or credits needed.

House Bill 4549, if passed, would allow anyone 21 years of age and older and with a high school diploma to teach as a substitute instructor.

Currently, substitutes are required to have a minimum completion of 60 college credit hours.

Also being considered under the same Bill, a person 18-years-old and over can seek the role for substitute teaching for kindergarten through eighth grade if enrolled in a teaching preparatory program.

If the Bill passes, the new Michigan law would be in effect until the close of June 2025.

The Bill is seen as an answer to temporarily solving the state’s teacher shortage, according to State Rep. Nate Shannon, a Democrat from Sterling Heights, who sponsored the proposed legislation. The state’s teacher shortage worsened during the pandemic.

Bringing a younger generation into the teaching profession is a novel idea but reimaging the educational process is what many school leaders, politicians and even Gen Z have had to consider.

“Gen Z is currently between 12 and 28 years old; they are the most diverse generation to date,” said Powers. “They are intersectional in their identities and also in their analysis of what our issues are and in their proposals for the solutions to these premises.

“In Michigan we’ve watched the autos completely rethink their industry. We’ve watch healthcare adapt to telemedicine. We’ve seen even foundations and government moved fast for a change,” added Powers.

Powers says as federal dollars allocated from the pandemic begin to retreat, she wants to instill that school leaders learn lessons from the pandemic.

“Remember we have to innovate on a dime, we have to provide more to those who need more.”

At the height of the 2020 pandemic and the era of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer, we also saw the rise in protests and a younger generation of people standing up and speaking out.

“We heard about this young Black girl, Grace, in Pontiac, Michigan, who was detained for not completing her homework; and that sounds crazy,” said Evamelo Oleita, co-founder and youth organizer for Black Lives Matter in ALL Capacities Member. She co-founded the organization in 2020 at the age of 16.

“While everything was virtual, they still decided to detain her because she failed to turn in a few assignments …We knew this was our time to step forward and make sure this young Black girl was going to be protected because we understood that if no one was going to protect us, then we were going to protect each other.”

The organization conducted a sit out near the front steps of the courthouse and the detention facility where they celebrated not too long after once Grace was released.

“Something happened in 2015 where I saw my teachers  beginning to sick out, I saw my teacher being told they couldn’t be paid and that they still had to work. I saw emergency management,” said Imani Harris, youth education activist and communications lead, 482Forward.

The combination of her mother fighting for her education and the issues that surrounded the school district she attended as a student lead Harris to become involved in advocacy work at the age of 14.

“I wrote a letter to Senator Hansen and I was just really honest about my experience at the number one high school in Detroit, and I’m still experiencing all the inequities I see across the rest of the city. No one should be experiencing the lack of a teacher.

“I experienced having a permanent substitute teacher for an entire year in an English class. I was just seeing my experience around me and feeling like it was being reflected in the conversation around me.”

So, instead of attempting to share her frustration with only the people of her immediate circle, Harris took her perspective and wrote an Op-ed where it was picked up by national media outlets.

From taking their voices to the streets, or to the halls of the state legislature, and even to the press, Harris and Oletia are examples of a Gen Z era that isn’t going to wait for anyone to make change, they will aggressively plow through barriers to institute educational policy reforms proudly and loudly.

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