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Smithsonian National Youth Leadership Team: High School Learning Center & Rockwell Museum Will Travel to DC

The Rockwell Museum is proud to be one of four Smithsonian Affiliate museums nationwide participating in the Smithsonian Youth Leadership Team (YLT) in collaboration with the High School Learning Center (HSLC) of the Corning-Painted Post Area School District. This Smithsonian Institution (SI) program is spearheaded by the National Museum of American History (NMAH). Students Sophie Gilbert, Grehyson Perry and Luciana Sheehan are voicing their perspectives and sharing their ideas in this empowering youth program. They are three of only 12 students participating nationwide with delegates from Michigan, Texas and California. The program amplifies youth voices, fosters connections and provides an opportunity for youth to engage in discussions about the history of democracy, social justice and national issues faced by teens today.  

High School Learning Center students and coordinator, Rockwell Museum educator and Smithsonian educators in Corning, NY

I’ve gained outside information from different perspectives rather than my own (or another local’s) on nationwide topics which I think was important to be open-minded to. The most memorable part is probably our breakout groups and our conversations without the adults because we got to open up a little more with each other and it helped once we were all together.” – Luciana Sheehan

Dedicated Smithsonian educators led 10 virtual sessions from December 2023 to April 2024. Megan Linehan, Education Specialist at NMAH; Maureen Leary, Youth & Family Programs Manager at National Postal Museum; and Pearl Eni, Educator at NMAH worked diligently with students on developing the theme and content for the 2024 National Youth Summit that will focus on “Politics & Elections.” The National Youth Summit is a long-standing Smithsonian program that brings students together with scholars, teachers, policy experts and activists in a national conversation about important events in America’s past that have relevance to the nation’s present and future. The Rockwell has participated in the National Youth Summit during the fall months with HSLC students for many years, and this extended opportunity for the teens in our community to participate in the Youth Leadership Team is amazing and life changing.  

“I’ve gained wonderous life knowledge; creating connections and projects that will help others in the future. I will most remember the lovely, outspoken individuals I had the pleasure of connecting and conversing with.” – Grehyson Perry 

The Rockwell hosted the Smithsonian educators for a site visit to Corning, NY March 5 and 6, 2024. Megan, Maureen and Pearl visited The Rockwell and the HSLC campus where they provided two workshops in collaboration with Dave Quackenbush’s Humanities classes focusing on civics, ideals of civics, democratic participation, storytelling through objects, representation through symbolism and diverse perspectives. They spent time connecting with Sophie, Grehyson and Luciana in downtown Corning and visited all their internship workplaces. We also showed them the Alley Art Project murals in our community. It was a valuable and personable visit with the Smithsonian educators.  

“It is so meaningful that HSLC students were asked to work with people from and for such a prestigious institution as the Smithsonian. We are always grateful to participate in projects with the Rockwell Museum!” – Dave Quackenbush  

During the program, Smithsonian educators and guest speakers engaged teens in discussing complex questions about the past while fostering open dialogue to build historical and civic knowledge, skills and efficacy. They also asked for input on digital graphics, sub-themes with specific topics and messaging for the 2024 Youth Summit program. The “Politics & Elections” summit program will highlight youth involvement and advocacy in voting rights, voting access, grassroots civic engagement, community change and the electoral system. A recent guest speaker was Smithsonian historian, Jon Grinspan, who shared his research and new book about the Wide Awakes youth movement in the 1860s and their impact on the democratic system and the Civil War.  

Historical narratives explored

  • The Wide Awakes: “The Wide Awakes were a Republican political organization that was dedicated to electing Abraham Lincoln to the White House. What distinguished them from the other political clubs of the 19th century were several things: their youth, their effectiveness, and their uniforms” (Grinspan, 2009). What tactics can young people take to engage in political action?
  • Rosie Head & Freedom Summer (1964): Rosie Head was a civil rights activist in Mississippi who became involved in the Civil Rights Movement at the age of 17. She was involved in Freedom Summer, also known as the Mississippi Summer Project, a 1964 voter registration drive aimed at increasing the number of registered Black voters in Mississippi. She helped with registering voters, working with Freedom Summer volunteers, helping to establish the Child Development Group of Mississippi and campaigning for black candidates for political office. How have young people influenced elections when they can’t vote? 
  • The 26th Amendment (1971): The 26 Amendment lowered the legal voting age in the United States from 21 to 18. How can young people engage in political action to create electoral power?  

“By participating in the YLT, I have strengthened my morals and what I’m willing to do to meet them. I’ve created new and strong connections and gained more insight and knowledge from the educators than I ever expected going into this. It was an incredibly knowledgeable and introspective experience. It was so spectacular to participate in this opportunity, and so exciting and memorable to see everybody’s face for the first time in person.” – Sophie Gilbert  

Next, all of the participating students, along with HSLC Coordinator Dave Quackenbush and Rockwell educator Amy Ruza will be going to Washington, DC in August. The group has  been invited to continue in the 2024 Youth Leadership Team along with the other Smithsonian Affiliate teens to explore the Smithsonian museums, the National Mall and meet and converge with impactful leaders in the museum field.  


Article | The Wide Awakes: The Young Revolution of 1860

Article | Rosie Head oral history interview conducted by John Dittmer in Tchula, Mississippi, 2013 March 13

Video | Meet Rosie Head

Article | The 26th Amendment