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The Big Picture

iGen Begins to Make its Mark

We are at the end of an era as the youngest Millennials graduate from college and educators turn their attention to the next generation. The name isn’t yet solidified for the cohort born in 1996 or later, which is commonly called both Generation Z and iGen. Yet some of this group’s unique characteristics are already becoming clear and are inspiring a variety of creative trends at secondary schools and colleges.

One commonly discussed aspect of iGen is how 21st-century technologies have been integrated into everyday life since early childhood. These digital natives barely remember a time before smartphones, the explosion in social media, and the proliferation of streaming video content. Some researchers connect the rise in adolescent anxiety and depression to the amount of time that young people spend on devices. In response, schools at every level are developing new initiatives to teach wellness—explicitly coaching young people in strategies for cultivating personal relationships, relieving stress, and defining a healthy life balance. Meanwhile, some make the case that young people use their devices to be more connected to each other and their world than previous generations. Thus schools are increasingly exploring how video content and apps can support classroom goals, expanding the types of tools available to reach varied learners.

Amidst this world of screens, iGen teens strongly desire real-world experiences and impacts. Corey Seemiller, author of Generation Z Goes to College, recently told the New York Times that iGen is wary of having been “sold a lot of stuff” and craves “authenticity and transparency.” This generation also shows a strong preference to be recognized as individuals. Combine these trends and it is not surprising to see the surging interest in experiential learning and “signature programs” that combine classes and field experiences to offer a deep dive into a topic. Boarding schools in particular have expanded such options to help students take full advantage of campus resources and faculty mentoring. Students are also seeking out experiential learning through semester schools and summer programs.

As an educational consultant, I love working with iGen students and appreciate their sincerity and their desire to have meaningful impact. Every year as I help seventh- and eighth-grade candidates explore possibilities for high school, I am impressed that their sense of social consciousness has been awakened as early as middle school. I worked with one candidate, for example, who crafted and sold a popular style of bracelet to raise money for an animal rescue fund, while another candidate creates and sells unique artworks to raise funds for a favorite family charity. Yet another candidate, when visiting family overseas, shared computer skills with underprivileged high school students. Back at home this individual kept in touch digitally to continue the mentoring. Still other candidates are aspiring entrepreneurs who are already dabbling in launching their first businesses. These young people are aware of the world around them and know how to make things happen.

As with every generation, iGen will face its share of challenges and opportunities. I am proud to know and work with these young people as they plan for their bright futures.

 

Cammie Bertram, founder and president of The Bertram Group, is highly respected within the educational community for her dedication to helping families accomplish their educational goals. She has more than twenty years of experience assisting students through both traditional and therapeutic advising at junior, secondary school, and college levels. She can be reached at cammie@thebertramgroup.com