Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

The 92 Report

Nov 20, 2023

Rachel Berg Belin  shares the journey of her career which has been inspired Inspired by the recognition that young people are underestimated in the value they can offer to communities and politics. Rachel has focused on creating spaces for young people to play a more meaningful role in schools and public life. Rachel's journey with youth and politics began with her involvement with the radio at the Institute of Politics and Phillips Brooks House, and producing a radio show called Kid Company. She has also worked with youth journalism venture Cultural Express in Massachusetts. She trained young people in the Boston area to be reporters on serious issues, interviewing people from all walks of life, including Supreme Court justices, the President of the U.S., local activists, and marginalized individuals. Rachel also moved around and led a media literacy nonprofit called Youth Voice Collaborative. 

She moved to Rochester, New York, where she got her master's in teaching and curriculum. She was teaching high school but felt frustrated in the classroom which felt mostly like an autocracy and wanted to do something outside of the classroom that was more in the vein of guerilla social studies. She worked with a program called Prichard Committee, which aimed to mobilize citizens to improve public education. She believed young people were a missing piece of this puzzle. Rachel's journey has been a rebellion against underestimation of the capacity of young people to contribute to our communities and affirmation of what is possible when we support young people to co-design our communities and do democracy with us. She believes that young people can be empowered and have a voice in democratic life when supported by adults and young people and established The Student Voice Team in Kentucky where young people are involved in shaping and forming education in schools, creating  more just and democratic schools. 


Youth Leading and Designing Education Research

The Student Voice Team has conducted over 16 original education studies over the last 11 years. They have conducted qualitative and quantitative studies of the extent to which their schools are safe, inclusive, and engaging, with the support of students, teachers, and families. The team has surveyed and interviewed thousands of students in diverse schools across the state, using data to write opinion pieces and columns that lift student voice on issues such as student mental health, safety, and policy. Two statewide studies have been conducted, each generating over 11,000 student responses from nearly every Kentucky County. These studies have had a significant impact on raising student voice on serious issues, such as the impacts of COVID on learning from home and the ineffectiveness of online learning for the vast majority of students. Another study focused on classroom conversations about race and racism in Kentucky during the height of the Critical Race Theory (CRT) debates. Over 11,000 students responded from nearly every Kentucky County, and the majority of students felt that their schools were not doing nearly enough to confront racism. The team presented their findings and recommendations to the State Board of Education and held a pop-up press conference on the Capitol steps to share their data and serve as a counter narrative to what older people were saying they needed in their schools. In conclusion, the Student Voice Team's strategies for creating more justice in democratic Kentucky schools involve young people leading and designing education research, policy, and storytelling.


Navigating Intergenerational Dynamics

The research is a youth-led, intergenerationally sustained organization that focuses on navigating intergenerational dynamics and creating space for young people to participate in decision-making processes. The organization is a reflection organization, allowing young people to contribute to the research process and guiding them in the analysis of data and messaging to the public. Adult partners, such as University of Kentucky researchers, are also involved in the research process. The organization's mission is to target an intergenerational audience and ensure equity in its ranks. They conduct research, influence policy, inform decision-makers, and develop storytelling skills. Students participate in media events, press conferences, testifying before legislatures, and writing their own pieces. They also train students in journalism to cover Kentucky Education news and provide commentary, and they have an independent news platform, The New Edu where students report on Kentucky education news, provide commentary, and produce. 


Funding of the Organization 

The organization has raised funding from various sources, including the Walton Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg and Bezos Foundation, and smaller funders in Kentucky. This has allowed the organization to pay young people fairly for their work and support those with greater economic needs. The fundraising and development process is unique because there is no gatekeeper for the work, and young people are often involved in developing proposals, and building relationships with funders, and reporting on successes and identifying metrics used to measure successes. The organization has a team of about 25 students from all over the state participating in their journalism training track. A young author and journalist, Rainsford Stouffer, leads some of the training and teaching of storytelling and journalism foundations. The goal is to fill the vacuum in Kentucky's education journalism by supporting young people to analyze and follow education news and report it to an intergenerational audience. 


Youth Empowerment and Agency

Rachel discusses her recent learnings and thoughts on young people's empowerment and agency. She believes that democracy is more than ever a faith, and as an older person, she has to model faith rather than cynicism in democracy. She believes that young people have tools and self-awareness that we need to value as a broader intergenerational community. Rachel also mentions the Future Coalition, which is a group of young people leading the way around education justice. 


Influential Harvard Professors and Courses

Rachel shares her experiences at Harvard, particularly the core classes and professors who had a significant impact on her career. She loved the core courses like Justice, Evolutionary Biology, and 17th-century Dutch art experience. She mentions professors Michael Sandel, Simon Schama, and Stephen Jay Gould. In conclusion, Rachel emphasizes the importance of empowering young people and fostering a broader intergenerational community. She encourages listeners to connect with other students and organizations interested in this work.



05:55 Education reform and student voice in Kentucky

12:37 Student-led research on mental health, race, and education in Kentucky

20:20 Youth involvement in nonprofit organization's fundraising and decision-making

25:02 Empowering young people in journalism and civic engagement

31:44 Education justice, Harvard experiences, and thesis on Massachusetts liberals during the bus crisis. 



Kentucky Student Voice Team website:

KSVT's Independent Education Journalism Platform:

KSVT's Youth-Led Education Research:

Rachel Belin on LinkedIn: