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05.12.2016

Empowering Students to Reach for Their Dreams

By Olivia Wilks

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Serving as a Treehouse Education Specialist means something different every day, but the unwavering core of this job requires us to believe wholeheartedly in the youth we work with. We hope that this conviction is infectious to the teachers, caregivers, and social workers with whom we collaborate, but most importantly we hope this message is absorbed by the youth themselves.

Male Teenage Pupil In Classroom

Male Teenage Pupil In Classroom

It’s difficult to capture what it means to be an Education Specialist because every day it could mean something different; but we are consistently resolute in helping youth claim or reclaim their autonomy and their ability to dream.

Championing for our youth means developing and collaborating with a strong and supportive team. As Education Specialists, we work closely with social workers involved in our youths cases, we problem-solve with caregivers and parents that know their youth in ways different from us, we communicate with teachers about the strengths and areas of growth in our youth, and work hard to build relationships with invested stakeholders to better surround our youth. This collaboration may look like reviewing special education law with a social worker in preparation for an important meeting at school, it could be debriefing with at CASA about mental health services for a youth, or it might just be relaying good news to a parent or caregiver and honoring their hard work and devotion.

Our role is cemented in education, but extends beyond the classroom when the lives of our youth take us there. For some youth, discussing grades and academic goals feels relevant and makes perfect sense. For others, school feels unrelatable and then our meetings may focus on studying for the GED or looking into a vocational institute. For others, instability or personal trauma might eclipse goal-setting or academic conversation.

When working 1:1 with students, being an Education Specialist might look like teaching self-advocacy around standing up to a bully. It might be working to request a new attorney to better support a student’s goal of getting their children back into their custody. It could mean breaking down how to get all A’s, figuring out how to apply for a scholarship, picking a camp for the summer, or signing up for driver’s education. It often means researching and dreaming about how to become the next Lebron James, Russell Wilson, Steve Jobs, Beyoncé, respected ghost hunter, accomplished zoologist, wealthy hair stylist, nurse, engineer, etc.

What I love about this job is that each meeting is different for each youth. There is space for me to brainstorm around the needs of each of my youth and work with them and their team to support their goals and progress. By pursuing what is relevant and important to each of our youth, genuine trust builds between Education Specialists and the youth we serve, and it fosters an atmosphere of truth and vulnerability because our agendas are almost always aligned. This environment allows us as Education Specialists to bear witness to the amazing growth and success of the youth we serve.

Despite all of this fun and the wearing all of these different hats, the ultimate objective of an Education Specialist is to become obsolete. To empower, connect and encourage each of our youth enough to become independent, resilient, successful citizens who are eager and capable of paving their own paths.

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About the Author

As a Treehouse Education Specialist, Olivia Wilks meets with middle and high school students in the Seattle School District to help them stay on track in their classes, set meaningful goals, and transition to fulfill their post-secondary dreams.


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