Workshop encourages Lawrence middle schoolers to imagine solutions for the future

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Lawrence middle school students put their imaginations to use Friday, working in teams to craft solutions for the future at the Alternative Futures for Kansas Workshop. 

Members of each school joined forces at the USD 497 district offices, where they learned how to think about the future and applied their skills to specific scenarios about what Kansas could look like in a decade.

The goal of the event was to stimulate kids to be active in shaping the futures they want, according to Jackie Counts, the director of the Center for Public Partnerships and Research at KU, one of the hosts of the event.

“They have agency in their future,” Counts said. “It’s really important that we deal with the needs of today, but we dream of something bigger, and we deserve better. And we have to start making it happen today. And it’s not something that we wait for someone else to do. There are things that you can start doing today.”

Billy Mills Middle School seventh grader Olive Mitchell said she liked the opportunity to work with other kids interested in the same concepts. All the students at the event are interested or have experience in the Future City program, a massive project where students build innovations and revamp a city in the future.

“I think it’s taught me that you need multiple opinions,” Mitchell said. “And you need to look at the future. So even if you’re looking at the future, you need to look at the future of that future.”

The CPPR hosted a similar future-planning event in November for the general public. Southwest Middle School gifted and enrichment teacher Dani Lotton-Barker brought a handful of her students, who loved the experience. They decided to hold a similar event for middle schoolers across the city. 

“I am hoping to just get them really excited about being little futurists,” Lotton-Barker said. “And imagining what the world could be. I feel like it makes me really sad sometimes when I talk to kids about the future because I think all they ever hear is bad news. And I want them to feel empowered to create some good news about the future.”

Southwest Middle School seventh grader Dale He said he was excited to get to learn more about how to shape the future. 

“It’s really interesting to see what can happen in the future because we don’t really know,” he said. “But we need to get an idea for it because if we keep on having this much carbon emissions and stuff like that, then our world isn’t going to be in too much of a good shape. So we kind of have to prepare for that.”

It was a unique and interesting opportunity, said Billy Mills Middle School eighth grader Amelie Gay. She enjoyed thinking about the future but liked that groups were focusing on scenarios only a decade away — not so far that it felt unimaginable. 

“Thinking about that, instead of a million years from now, is different,” Gay said. “It’s kind of refreshing.” 

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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