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Ann Arbor Summit Gets Creative with Youth Engagement

Ann Arbor, Michigan GradNation Community Summit“Our hope was to provide an outlet for youth and adults across Washtenaw County to come together for interactive and engaging programming,” said Kelsey Cavanagh-Strong of Neutral Zone, describing the GradNation Community Summit they hosted in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Oct. 20.

Neutral Zone is a teen center devoted to promoting personal growth through creative expression and community leadership, and the summit provided plenty of opportunities for both. About 100 high school students and representatives from local youth serving organizations came out to the event, which was held at Washtenaw Community College.

In partnership with Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth (WACY), Neutral Zone aimed to make the summit a space where the county’s young people and community partners could engage in interactive programming.

“[We were] excited that Neutral Zone approached us with an opportunity to partner on the GradNation Summit because increasing high school graduation rates, especially for economically disadvantaged youth, is one of our two community-level priorities,” said Ashley Kryscynski of WACY. Other partnering organizations included WAVE Washtenaw, Michigan Works, and Ypsilanti Community Schools.

“Our goal is to increase high school graduation rates for economically disadvantaged youth to 85 percent by the year 2025 by improving outcomes on many smaller indicators throughout the developmental continuum,” Kryscynski continued.

Community partners attended sessions where they learned how to better communicate their resources to young people, while young people engaged in various activities that helped them understand their own personal identities.

One of the activities that really seemed to resonate with the students was called “Cross this Path.” For this activity, students stood on one side of the room and had to walk across the room together if they could relate to the questions posed by the facilitator. This activity was visually powerful because the students could see who in their cohort were facing similar issues. Even those who seemed apprehensive about participating appeared to feel supported when they saw others moving across the room.

During a “resource slam” in which community partners performed spoken word pieces about their programs and the resources they provide, youth were required to engage in mind mapping to note all that the organizations had to offer. The teens then engaged in a dialogue with the adults to determine which resources they would use in hypothetical real-world scenarios.

“[During] this summit and in our day-to-day programming, we provide youth voice and leadership skill-building to allow youth to take ownership of their own voices and ideas,” said Cavanagh-Strong. She added that Neutral Zone is proud to be able to support the young people they serve and encourage them to put action behind their ideas.


America’s Promise Alliance is working with community partners across the country to host 100 community summits through 2016. This initiative is part of its GradNation goal to reach a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020.

Each community summit convenes multi-sector leaders to identify challenges facing young people in their communities and develop strategies to address them.

To learn more about community summits or find one in your area, visit GradNation community summits