Nikki Adeli, a high school junior at Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy, captivated the audience as she called for the adults of today to believe in her generation. As Youth Commissioner to Mayor Michael Nutter, and Vice President of the School District of Philadelphia Student Government (among other leadership roles), Nikki serves as a shining example of what the teenagers of today have to offer.
I was able to catch up with Nikki to ask her about her TEDxPhilly talk, and her views on education from the perspective of a teenage student (for all you future educators out there).
MTW: Your TEDxPhilly talk drew a standing ovation from the audience. How did the experience feel?
NA: Haha, I wish actually got to see it! I was so worried to get off stage on time for the next speaker to present that I didn't even see the standing ovation! However, after my mom told me it happened, I was delighted!
MTW: Did you feel any pressure being the youngest person to ever speak at at a TEDxPhilly conference?
NA: Not really. In all honesty, I don't remember being nervous before or during the talk. I think it's due to the fact that I truly believe in the concepts I spoke about in my talk that it all came naturally; as if I was having a conversation with someone, over lunch, about education.
MTW: You said at the end of your talk, “Invest in teens and the future will take care of itself.” What steps can educational institutions take to invest in teens?
NA: In my opinion, every single teenager has the ability to become a leader in his or her community. We all already have a fire of interest within us, something we are passionate about. However, that fire of interest needs to be ignited by a match. The match is the teacher. The match is the principal. The match could be any adult in that school. However, to be the match, there not only needs to be an investment of funding and resources - which a multitude of institutions lack - but also time and belief. Time that isn't just given during a class instruction, but also outside of the classroom, after school, and on the weekend. When time is set aside to get to know what a student is passionate about, the investment of belief follows immediately like a chain reaction.
In addition, there needs to be a change in school climate to a climate that fosters student voice.
MTW: How can we empower teens to, as you mention in your talk, be the leaders of today (and not just the leaders of tomorrow)?
NA: I cannot urge enough how important student voice is. I feel as though there is a silent epidemic of voiceless students. There is a lack of student voice in so many classrooms and districts that it forbids students from becoming engaged in their own learning and education. Therefore, the way to empower students is by incorporating us into the conversations that relate to our education. Whether it’s about funding or reforming how we learn in the classroom, we are the ones going to school 180 days of the year; our opinions and experiences are the most important on the decision. If students were told in their teenage years that their voice mattered, that would empower us to speak up not only in school but in our own communities to create positive change.
MTW: For those who are pursuing a career in education, what do you think they should keep in mind regarding the students they will eventually teach?
NA: Two things:
- The student sitting in front of you and the student next to him and the student sitting behind her, are all extraordinary in their own special ways. Each one of their unique characteristics will be essential to bettering society. One of the privileges you will have as a teacher is to help them discover that uniqueness and guide them in the right direction so that they can blossom one day into who they are truly meant to be: themselves. Not what other people tell them to be based on THEIR definition of what success is, or from set standards that a person of higher rank told you they are to meet to be successful. A successful student is one who knows what type of positive impact they want to make as themselves.
- Growing up, I’ve had numerous teachers, when I asked them a question, “answer” the question by saying “Were you not listening? I’m not going to repeat myself” or “Just read the handout and you’ll understand.” Never question a student for a question they have asked AND don’t let their peers question them either. Asking questions are a sign of curiosity. Don’t shut down the curiosity!
MTW: What’s next for you? I think I saw a tweet from someone saying you should run for mayor...
NA: That was one of my favorite tweets that I got that day. As flattering as that is, for now I'm going to continue my efforts, as a Philadelphia Youth Commissioner, to create a resolution that allows for students during their school week to intern and/or volunteer somewhere in the city that they are interested in. Places like hospitals, law firms, elementary schools, or even a cupcake shop. This will not only help students become leaders in their own community, but it will also help students apply what they are learning in school to the real world.
While Nikki has not yet determined her career path, she is really interested in medicine and international relations and hopes to find common ground between them. And it's not all work for Nikki; she loves to play ultimate frisbee!
You can follow Nikki Adeli on Twitter: @nikkiadeli