Tormohlen: The view from a high school student’s chair |

Tormohlen: The view from a high school student’s chair

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014
Steve Mundinger |

In this column, we’re giving voice to the organizations and people working to effect positive change in the Aspen to Parachute region.

Alyssa Szczelina, 17, is a senior at Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, where the faculty works hard to create relationships with each individual student and to make the curriculum as relevant as possible to each child. Szczelina agreed to offer some of her thoughts about the problems that today’s students face and some of the educational strategies that work for them.

Aspen Community Foundation: What are some of the challenges facing local youth today?

Alyssa Szczelina: One of the biggest challenges my peers have is the constant worry about how they’re going to sustain themselves financially and how they’re going to create a stable life for themselves. I’ve observed a lot of people worrying about that — worrying about jobs and how they’re going to create some sort of stability. That worry about how they’re going to make money can actually put them into sort of a depression, and that’s where they start making bad choices. I think that’s where we need to start — how can we make them feel a bit more comforted, help them know they have the skills to provide a stable life for themselves?

ACF: How can schools help students to meet these challenges?

AS: I think job programs and teaching career skills is very important, because that gives kids the confidence that they have skills they can go out and utilize and turn that into a career. I believe we need to cater more to their interests and try to help youth figure out career paths that align with their interests and passions. If someone really loves math, then we could figure out how to get them to be an engineer. … If we can sit down with children individually and figure out their skill set, then we could create a plan to provide them training to correlate with their skill set. It would not only be fun; it would be empowering.

ACF: How can the larger community support students?

AS: I think it would be really great to have more internships. People who have already established themselves in certain career paths could reach out to youth and say, “Hey, come to work with me for a week, and I’ll show you what I do.” That would show kids what it’s really like to be in a career field. That would give them the experience of not only learning the skill sets but also seeing what is actually required of you at the job.

I have a friend who was really interested in cars and being a mechanic. He got an internship at a mechanic shop and got to work firsthand and experience what it’s really like. He not only learned how to work on cars but how that whole industry works.

For me, getting the opportunity to meet people that were already established within the poetry world has changed my views. I went from thinking that poetry could never become a legitimate career for me to believing that I could succeed and prosper with my poetry as long as I remained passionate and determined to make it work.

ACF: Is there an example of a program or initiative that’s working?

AS: During interim (Yampah Mountain High School experiential education), we take trips to various places. For example, I went to Chicago, where we volunteered at multiple places, including a large soup kitchen, and we learned first-hand how much work goes into feeding people and providing them with a place to stay. I think it’s really important that we get exposed to the hardships of life and what’s really out there. It’s one thing to just go sightseeing, but it’s another thing to go to a beautiful city and see the not-so-beautiful parts of it.

ACF: Please cite a person or program that positively affected you, and explain how.

AS: Well, there was this restorative justice program that I recently got trained in. It’s basically another way to solve conflicts rather than going straight to the justice system. … For example, if somebody got caught shoplifting, instead of sitting down with the police, you would create a group of people who were affected by what the kid had done — the shop owner, the kid’s parents, maybe the principal from the school, sometimes you need a (police) officer there, too. The next step after gathering those people together would be to figure out the harm that was done and then make a plan to repair the harm. There are alternative ways to solve problems, and this brings people together.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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