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  • Halle Miller, Plano High School

Far beyond the textbooks

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

The world is not as big as I once thought it was. What is officially known as the distance decay effect, has made Africa right around the corner from my High School in Plano Texas. This phenomenon can be credited to the widespread innovation of open GIS software, and the YouthMappers program.

My name is Halle Miller, and I am a sophomore student in my High School’s International Baccalaureate program. Reading, writing, drawing, and more recently, mapping, are a few of my favorite hobbies. I have always lived in Murphy Texas, a small town in the suburbs of Dallas that is roughly 4 by 4 square miles. But, I have been able to visit places from Mozambique to Brazil, while staying inside the Murphy city limits, due to my involvement in the YouthMappers program.

This past spring, geographer Dr. Patricia Solis visited my freshman human geography class and taught over 90 students how to use a geographic information system and satellite imagery to change lives. She introduced us to OpenStreetMap, and showed us how mapping buildings from satellite imagery of Mozambique could make malaria prevention accessible for so many people. Not only were my peers and I astonished by the technology used to create the network of online mapping, but we were also astonished at our own ability to create an instant step towards improving the quality of life for people across the world.

When you’re learning about the numbers on the human development index in Africa, invasive species in Asia, and the difference between dialect in both Spain and South America, it is easy to forget that there are actual people in all of those places. Being a part of YouthMappers for even one class period opened our eyes to the fact that the statistics we were learning about were real people. We came to the realization that our mapping actually helped to make the world a better place.

Instead of just accepting the facts that we learned in school, this experience prompted us to ask higher level questions such as: Why is malaria prevalent in these certain areas? Who does malaria primarily affect? Does socioeconomic status relate to the distribution of malaria prevention methods? What have we done before to end this epidemic, and what are we doing now?

It is important for high school students to have increased awareness of current issues, as well as the opportunity to gain global experience and perspective. YouthMappers is a platform that allows students to develop these attributes. Personally, I would love to start a high school chapter of YouthMappers. While it is rewarding to participate in local projects that help your community, there is also great joy in playing a part of something that sparks passion, and adds to a long term goal.

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work as an intern with Dr. Solis on her geography related projects. During this time I was able to listen in on a skype call with a woman in Brazil trying to combat inequality with mapping. Near the end of the call I gave her a tutorial by sharing my screen about how to use OpenStreetMap and related software. I am confident that students on a high school level can learn and make significant contributions to the OpenStreetMap community, as well as thrive in leadership positions through the YouthMappers program. A YouthMappers chapter requires students that are passionate and willing to organize meetings, teach their peers how to use unfamiliar software, and display responsibility. High school students can accomplish all of these things.

Extending YouthMappers to a secondary education level would teach students about geography and gis related software. This program would open up conversations about how maps can be used to solve world problems, how these issues relate to our daily lives, and about the many geography related career options available through higher education. This would give university students new opportunities as well; to reach out to local high schools and teach about the Youthappers program, or even plant a sister chapter.

The YouthMappers program is an important reminder for all high school participants, especially in a rigorous program such as IB, that there is more to the world than what is taught at school and studied in textbooks. Although the world is not as big as I once thought it was, there is so much more of it to be explored, and this can be done through YouthMappers.

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