Through conversations about issues affecting young people today, PLAY organizers set out to equip participants with leadership skills, introduce them to public policy, and eventually create a pool of future policy students and in leadership.
“Even for adults, when you think about public policy, it’s such a big topic,” said Shawn Anderson, assistant director of student services at Batten. “We really wanted to look at the issues they were facing in their lives as high school students and, particularly over the last two and a half years of COVID, and what are some of the political issues that they identified as being difficult or difficult for them in their high school careers and social lives.
Students visited Grounds to gain insight into university life and participated in sessions on public speaking and developing professional networks.
“There was just a whole bunch of doors open to this program that now I can explore and maybe figure out which path I want to take and what I need to do next,” Mushtaq Faiz, a 16-year-old junior told William Monroe High School in Greene County.
Much of the week used game design, with guidance from iThrive, to foster conversations about political issues affecting today’s teens, including mental health, access to guns , women’s issues and income inequality.
Letting teens dig into big questions in the space of a game gives them the opportunity to reflect on their own knowledge and experiences, said Susan Rivers, iThrive’s executive director and chief scientist. “The power of game design is that it invites you to be very concrete about your understanding of the world,” she said.
Teens are in a unique position in their own development to come up with original ideas, Rivers said. While adults have learned how systems work and generally work within these boundaries to solve problems, teenage brains are tuned to explore all possibilities as they discover their place in the world away from parents.
“Their natural inclination is to take risks,” Rivers said. “And, for me and for the work that we do, they are some of the ideal design partners in finding solutions to the world’s problems.”