Robert, Lillie, Annika, and Jaden have big ambitions. Seventeen-year-old classmates from Shreveport, Louisiana, Robert wants to go to law school, Lillie aspires to be a radiologist, and Annika plans to be an entrepreneur. Sixteen-year-old Jaden from neighboring Bossier City has her sights on being an engineer. They're all members of a Teen Advisory Committee created through IYF's LEAPS initiative to foster leadership and ensure that local planning and programming account for young people's needs and perspectives.

These four are smart, articulate, and curious to learn—but they're also anxious and not totally confident they're prepared for life after senior year. As we approach International Youth Day, which, on August 12, 2019, will focus on transforming education, the teenagers share their thoughts on the theme.

What was or has been your biggest barrier to education?

Robert: The public school system often creates an environment where individuality is lost. While I always have had access to education, it is often generalized to apply to the maximum number of students to the point where the needs of students as individuals are ignored.   

Lillie: I would have to say my biggest barrier in education is anxiety and dealing with the feeling of not being good enough. I have always compared myself to my peers, and I still struggle with this in my education today.  

Annika: My biggest barrier to education was being able to stay motivated. Motivation is key to keeping your dreams alive! 

Jaden: From a young age, I’ve always been interested in building things and experimenting. In elementary school, I joined a robotics team that I continued to be a part of for five years. As I got older, I realized that being a part of S.T.E.M. classes wasn’t something that everyone wanted to do. There weren’t many girls that stuck with the program, and eventually I was the only one. With that being said, I’d have to say that my biggest barrier that I had in education dealt with a social and mental aspect. Like most middle schoolers, I was scared to be different. It took a long time for me to realize that the stuff that I was doing and accomplishing was really cool, regardless if it was unusual for a girl to be a part of the S.T.E.M. field or not. Even though it took time, I’m glad that I was finally able to realize that I love what I do, and it’s all a part of my plan to be a female engineer and a unique leader that will make changes. 

What’s one thing you wish you were learning about or had learned about in school?

Robert: Schools do not do enough to address the growing mental health crisis among teens. We waste away our health education classes without learning valuables tools to deal with depression and anxiety. We need help with the real mental health challenges we face daily, often perpetuated within schools themselves. 

Lillie: Having the opportunity to learn about handling financial situations is something that I wish I was offered in school. Although I feel high school has prepared me for the next step academically, I believe I would have benefited from knowledge in everyday adult responsibilities such as balancing a checkbook or interviewing for a job.

Annika: One thing I wish I would be able to learn in school is managing money and just life skills in general. We should be able to incorporate a Life Skills class in our school system. 

Jaden: I feel like a lot of people get out of high school and have no idea how to prepare for real world things such as paying taxes, managing finances, or even supporting another life. I wish I would’ve learned more about things like this through school. 

Why is education important to you?

Robert: I have always valued education because it provides me confidence and structure to pursue my passions.

Lillie: Education is important to me because it defines who I am. I am excited about what I have learned, but I am more excited of how much more there is to explore and gain from the world of education. 

Annika: Education is important to me because having it will make you feel more content with life. 

Jaden: The foundation of my life begins here. The earlier that I learn, the more prepared that I will be for the future. My long-term goals are to graduate from my top-choice university with a Ph.D. and then become a successful engineer. I also plan to support my family and give back to the community.