Crossroads Academy students talk about their chance to make a better world
If Abigail Hoyt could change the world, she'd start by ending generations of poverty, or at least talking about the possibility with people who, like her, want to solve global problems.
"People who are born into poor families are likely to remain poor, even when they work hard," said Abigail, a freshman at Crossroads Academy in Kansas City. "I would like to break that down."
A daunting endeavor for a high school student. But, nevertheless, Abigail is going to get a chance to be heard next month when she and about a dozen of her schoolmates meet with national and international experts, business people and leaders of wealthy foundations, who have the clout and the finances to examine world-changing possibilities.
The students from her public charter school have been invited to join college students and young professionals from around the world at the Global Solutions Lab, where they will spend a week sharing ideas and helping to come up with ways to solve some of the world’s most critical problems.
At the end of the week, they will present their ideas to United Nations officials in New York City.
Part of the trip is being paid for by the lab, but students still have to come up with another $20,000, which they are hoping to raise through a Gofundme account. So far they've pulled in about $2,500.
"This is not going to be an academic exercise," said Medard Gabel, director of the Global Solutions Lab, which was started 16 years ago in New York City. He said the whole point is "to challenge young people and to lead to a solution." A solution that Gabel said he expects to see parlayed into a business or taken up by one of the invited foundations "and not set on a shelf."
He also expects the Crossroads students to be as involved in deciding what problems to tackle and coming up with solutions as the adults invited to this year's lab.
Gabel asked the Crossroads students to participate after they joined an online talk he gave earlier in the year, during which he asked whether it's possible for everyone on the planet to have all basic human needs — food, clean water, housing, health care — met. The students jumped in with what Gabel said were meaty questions.
"They seemed like a bright bunch of young people," Gabel said. "We are interested in their values." So he offered them partial scholarships to be part of this year's lab, from June 17 to June 25 at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, where they will stay in campus dorms.
Every day from sunup to way past sundown the students will teamed up with adults from Asia, Europe, Africa and South America.
Lab organizers have said the week may well be the most intensive work time they've experienced.
"Being able to be part of a group like this I think gives us a chance to be more successful in our future," said Jaylen Collier, a Crossroads freshman. "This is not like we are going on vacation somewhere. We are going to help change the world."
In the aftermath of February's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the nation has witnessed students across the country lead a movement to tighten gun laws and push for safer schools. Gabel said adults are paying attention to young people and recognizing the power of the voices.
"If they are not listening then they ought to beware. The youth are changemakers," Gabel said. "John Kennedy said something to the effect that those who make peaceful change impossible guarantee there is going to be a violent revolution."
He talked about the youthful innocence he is eager to extract from the Crossroads students. "And I don't mean this in any way to be a put-down," Gabel said.
"Young people are smart. They have enthusiasm, energy and an innocence. They ask the simple questions that need to be asked. And they know how they want the world to be," he said.
He agreed with a statement made by Parkland high school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez, who at a recent education writer's conference in Los Angeles said, "People sent us to high school so we could learn stuff and then are amazed that we paid attention.”
Moreover, Gabel said, unlike a lot of adults, "the young people are not jaded by expertise. They don't know all the reasons why something can't be done. They know what ought to be done and have a beatific vision of the future. We have to figure out how to do it."
Nyvea Cunningham, a Crossroads student, knows what she wants changed in her world: "Food deserts, especially in the black community where there are no grocery stores," she said. "We don't have a lot of healthy food options. Why is that? It shouldn't be that way."
Her idea for change fits, Gabel said, with the theme of this year's Global Solutions Lab, which will focus on urban environments. About 60 percent of the people on the planet live in cities; in the U.S. that number rises to 85 percent.
"I just feel like there is always some type of problem in black communities," said Nyvea's classmate, D'Ontay Love. "Not having healthy options, poverty, not having the best schools, schools with books that are old with information that's no longer relevant. I just feel like everyone throughout the world should at least be able to get education."
After all, he said, it's the education he's getting at Crossroads that has afforded him this opportunity. It's unusual for a group of high school students from one school to be invited to the Global Solutions Lab.
Crossroads Academy, with grades kindergarten through ninth grade, this year was named the top charter school in Missouri, by a state charter school association. This is the first year it has had a high school, enrolling 35 freshmen last fall. Next school year the high school expects to have 200 students enrolled and is changing its name to Crossroads Preparatory Academy.