Fairfield high schooler aims to highlight student perspective in new YouTube series

FAIRFIELD — To Allen Yao, discourse and discussion are crucial parts of a healthy society.

With that goal in mind, he created Verbum — a YouTube channel to highlight conversation. That channel recently launched a new series focusing on the perspectives of Fairfield students.

Yao, a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, said he is a proponent of social entrepreneurship, or using business to create change.

“With Verbum, which is our YouTube channel, our entire goal is to spark meaningful conversations using media and through entertaining form,” he said. “In school, I’m working on an independent project, which is ‘The Pulse.”’

The Pulse” is a new series in which people involved in school discuss a series of topics that affect them. It’s modeled after the Jubilee Middle Ground series. Yao said he hopes the Board of Education and school administrators can use the videos to make decisions that reflect students’ perspectives.

“The premise of the series is to gauge opinions from a group of people — like high school seniors, teachers, parents, administrators, high schoolers in general,” he said. “Then, I have a wide range of questions I ask that group.”

The first video in the series, released Dec. 7, shows high school seniors discussing their feelings on topics, such as college applications, standardized testing and whether high school has prepared them for the real world.

Yao said it would make students feel better if they were able to be part of policy conversations.

“We are at school from 7:30 to 2:10, so I think it’s important for students to voice their opinion and let their voices be heard,” he said. “The thread of this being, do something entertaining but it has a meaningful impact.”

Since he only has access to people from Fairfield Ludlowe, Yao said he hopes the idea will spread to other towns and across the nation.

“The ultimate goal is having other towns where the student population is engaging with the board of education,” he said. “They don’t have to make the same video, but they participate in the discussion with their teachers, their parents, their board of ed member.”

Yao is no stranger to the importance of conversation — and said he started Verbum in the spring semester of his sophomore year, as the pandemic shut down many aspects of life, including schools.

“I was on my bed on TikTok scrolling, and I saw people debating through the duets,” he said, speaking about the function which allows users to respond to other people’s videos. “They were very mean. They were yelling at each other.”

It made him wonder why people struggle to have civil discourse, Yao said, especially in the political realm. He said he worries it will have an impact on society’s ability to compromise and get things done.

Yao said he wanted to see people from opposite sides of the spectrum sit down and have conversations with each other. The first content created for Verbum were live, moderated debates. Later on, the quality of videos on the channel improved.

He said new series such as one where groups of people in different subsets of the same group debated issues and another where people share their hot takes, or controversial opinions.

“The goal is to spark meaningful conversations and show people different perspectives,” he said.

In November of 2020, Yao was contacted by The Institute for Youth in Policy, a national “youth-led and youth-founded” non-profit, which seeks to engage young people in politics in a non-partisan way. He said the group wanted to partner up with his channel, and he accepted.

“They help the channel, give us exposure and they give us resources as well,” he said, later noting the channel has raised thousands of dollars for national and international causes. “We do align in the fact that we are trying to utilize discourse and to find ways for youth to interact with policy.”

As he looks toward the future, Yao said he still wants to be involved with the channel, but would not post videos at the same rate of about once a month from all of different series. He said he might pass “The Pulse” down to someone still in high school, with them doing the same when they leave.

“Making a meaningful impact at my school is the least I could do,” he said.

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com