The Appleton Youth Education Initiative: Past, Present, and Future

The Appleton Youth Education Initiative: Past, Present, and Future

Mya Koffie

Paige Givens exudes an impressive sagacity no matter what conversation arises. As a friend, Paige speaks thoughtfully, casting a new light on every topic she approaches – from horror films to the viola. As a leader, she guides every discussion with a gentle patience, encouraging her teammates to recognize their own amazing capabilities and make a positive impact on their community. This year, Paige serves as the president of the Appleton Youth Education Initiative, or AYEI. 

Launched in 2009, the local non-profit strives both to “prepare high school students” for all that awaits them and to create “equity and inclusion in the academic atmosphere.” Through various different programs, AYEI provides educational support to Appleton Area students regardless of their socioeconomic status. 

Around March of 2020, an all-too-familiar virus took America by storm. The disease’s rapid spread  threw the nation into ‘shutdown.’ The pandemic greatly affected, and continues to affect, AYEI’s outreach efforts. Paige, however, remains confident in the organization’s influence on community members and the support it provides to Appleton’s scholars.

“[The pandemic] happened to us, and we’re in this position,” Paige explains. “We can’t progress past where we were in previous years – that’s just unreasonable – but we can do the best we can.” When asked about change and continuity at AYEI post-shutdown, Paige details a particularly interesting shift: people tend to value in-person events and opportunities more now. “We saw a lot of people wanting to do things in person, so that’s what we’re planning on for our events.”

COVID-19 also forced organizations to conduct outreach more intentionally. Paige states that compared to previous years, AYEI spent “ way more…[time trying] to reach people. We did a lot of work with recruiting new members this year. We…[have to] build up that base of people who maybe didn’t hear about us last year because of COVID and get a solid team together.

I just hope to see more recognition, more participation from students. I hope more students hear the name ‘AYEI’ and maybe are interested in doing some of our events. Maybe donating a book, maybe applying to be a member next year to help put these things [AYEI programs, events, and activities] together for other students,” she expresses when asked about her hopes for the non-profit’s future.

The pandemic presents AYEI with setback after setback, but the initiative refuses to capitulate. In the past, December brought AYEI’s philharmonic ventures: students spread holiday cheer by  performing holiday music for nursing home residents. “It was just incredible to see the reactions of the people there, how such a small thing we put together made such a huge impact,” Paige recounts. Because COVID makes in-person performances unsafe, the AYEI asked students to submit videos of themselves singing or playing holiday music on an instrument. The organization compiled these videos and sent “a virtual performance” to nursing homes. “We’re also working on our book drive, ACT prep classes,  and our Hack Appleton, which is…[a coding event] in April.”

The busy organization remains determined to make a difference. Paige underscores the significance of youth impetus within AYEI. “I think my favorite part about it is that it’s a very student-led thing. We get guidance from adults, and different perspectives from them, but they’re not the ones running the show. We’re running the show, and it’s really cool to see what high schoolers can do for our community.” 

For more information on the Appleton Youth Education Initiative or the upcoming Hack Appleton, visit


Appeared in Noctiluca‘s December 2021 Issue