Partner Highlight: We.APP (We Act. Present. Perform)

Our young people need to know that their voices matter and that they bring something special to this world. By listening to and learning about their lived experiences, we can collectively support each child and young adult on their journey as they enter into adulthood with a strong sense of identity and purpose.

We.APP (We Act. Present. Perform) believes that every child has a story, but not all children are empowered or can openly share their experiences with others. With Best Starts support, We.APP trains teaching guides to work alongside classroom educators in a co-teaching model, offering the only public speaking class for students across seven Seattle Public Schools. For an entire school year, more than 350 scholars in grades 4th – 12th discover their unique voice and create original public speaking pieces and messages that express their views on education, home and life.

We.APP is a part of Best Starts’ Trauma Informed Restorative Practices (TIRP) Village, a collective of 30 partners, including schools, school districts, and other community-based organizations, who work to ensure that our educational system fosters our young students’ holistic minds, spirits, and hearts. With a trauma-informed or restorative approach, teachers and staff focus on creating welcoming environments that allow students to bring their whole selves to the classroom: their unique strengths, social and emotional needs, and lived experiences.

Whenever Toyia Taylor, We.APP’s Executive Director, and her team first enter into a classroom, they ask their scholars: how many of you feel like you have a lot to say, but if you said it, nobody would hear you? She says that across the board – from 4th graders to high schoolers – a large majority of students confess that they don’t say anything because they don’t think anyone is listening.

“At the beginning, there are always a lot of “I don’t know,” or “I don’t have anything to say.” It’s transformative to watch kids who would hide under tables grow into themselves over time. A lot of students have come up to us at the end of their program to celebrate their unique identities and express their small, yet monumental victories.”

Taylor says that the program’s beauty is reflected in the slow, steady journey that scholars embark on as they lead their own self-authored evolution. She says, “we are learning how to let go, and encourage them to lead this process. We say: you identify who you are and how you imagine the world to be. We are simply here to guide you and let you stand on our shoulders to make sure that you’re supported.”

We.APP’s courses engage youth who identify as LGBTQIA+, English-language learners, immigrants, unique learners, foster youth and/or McKinney-Vento students. By centering the lived experiences of students who have been historically underserved and harmed by our educational system, traditional classroom dynamics shift. Through project-based assignments, students now hold the mic and can bravely speak their truth, many finding courage and strength in their peers’ and their own stories.

We say: you identify who you are and how you imagine the world to be. We are simply here to guide you and let you stand on our shoulders to make sure that you’re supported.

Through 2020, students began to express their feelings about the double pandemics through Public Service Announcements (PSA). From sharing their thoughts on the absence of in-school learning to challenging family dynamics during COVID-19 and reckoning with racial injustice, PSAs have become a safe, brave place for students to speak up and collectively reckon with the impacts of 2020.

“The only way we begin to have equality and understanding in our communities is for us to hear the voices of those who are usually silent.” – Toyia Taylor

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