Story of Adolescents in California

Isadora Kosofsky/CatchLight for Stuart Foundation

A snapshot of adolescents in California rooted in possibility and deep commitment to equity.

Letter from Sophie Fanelli, President of The Stuart Foundation, June 11, 2024

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
Of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power
To author a new chapter,
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
For there is always light,
If only we’re brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb

To hear those lines from a 22-year-old woman is to be reminded of the tangle of courage and fear, brilliance and burdens that marks adolescence today.

As a Foundation that devotes its resources, time, and energy to advancing adolescent thriving, we are unabashed champions of young people.

We honor their contributions and creativity, their capacity for joy and their demand for justice, and their resolve to flourish, even while public systems — from education to workforce development to public health — are not typically designed and aligned with this goal at the center.

If we are to reimagine these public systems, we need to better understand adolescents themselves. What we have learned, however, is that it is much easier to ask questions about adolescents than it is to answer them.

Information about academic performance exists as a disconnected patchwork of datasets, timeframes, and demographics. Information about the health and well-being of young people is similarly disjointed and incomplete.  And while a growing number of researchers are studying how adolescents are contributing to the economy; their schools, families, and communities; and to a democratic society, there is no go-to source where this information is gathered and curated.

In fact, much of what we see and hear about young people is framed by the challenges they face, rather than the hopeful present and future they are creating. This is, in part, a reflection of the questions we are collectively asking about young people. It is also a reflection of the measures by which we have defined success. While we need to track important measures like suspension rates and chronic absenteeism, for example, time in school alone fails to capture whether young people feel seen and safe, whether they are happy, challenged, inspired. We think all these measures matter.

With this in mind, we offer the following snapshot of adolescents in California. Think of it as an invitation to a conversation about how we collectively create the conditions for thriving. I welcome your thoughts, additions, and provocations.

In solidarity,

Sophie Fanelli