Youth Engagement in Ohio

There are learnings about youth engagement everywhere there are young people, and every learning is different and unique, as well as similar and familiar. For the last few days, I’ve been at Miami University in Ohio learning about youth engagement with adult practitioners here. This is the  at OPEC (Ohio Promoting WEllness & ReCovery) Conference, an annual gathering of youth workers, teachers, prevention/intervention specialists, counselors, administrators, executives and others who are involved throughout the field. Its a tremendous gathering, and I’m humbled to be here.

Today, I facilitated a 9-hour seminar focused on Project-Based Learning. It was an exciting day, filled with so much collaborative learning and so many generative processes that my I left with a full heart and amazed mind. Excitement bubbled throughout the day, with almost 50 people creating community, connecting with their peers and teaching each other the positive, powerful potential of Project Based Learning. It was exciting!

One of the most powerful activities we did was creating new learning about youth engagement specifically. After sharing our definitions, I explained that my research and practice has shown that youth engagement is simply young people doing the act of choosing the same thing over and over. Either it happens unconsciously or consciously, meaningful or otherwise, good or challenging. After talking about that for a while, we answered some key questions about youth engagement. I want to share the group’s responses to some of those questions here. Following are six questions, and the responses to our brainstorming.

 

1. How Does Youth Engagement Happen?

  • Slowly
  • When adults give youth a voice and choice
  • With buy-in from everyone
  • Persistence
  • Organically
  • As a process
  • Opportunity
  • By having opportunities to connect and feel empowered
  • Authenticity of the leader/ adult ally/ mentor
  • Showing them that they matter
  • After much head banging and the sound of crickets chirping
  • As a facilitator: I listen… I create space/ activity… and fun!!
  • By being a living example of how life can be and all the possibilities that exist
  • By giving responsibility/ say to target group
  • Adults getting their egos out of the way
  • With support of the community
  • Buy-in from adults
  • With consistency
  • Give them the opportunity
  • With patience, time and comittment
  • Perspective

 

2. Why Does Youth Engagement Matter?

  • Help youth find their purpose
  • Positive use of time
  • Youth are invested in something bigger than themselves
  • Hope for the future
  • They’re our kids!
  • Creates meaningful engagement for a lifetime
  • Avoid wasting time, energy and money on a strategy that doesn’t work
  • Matters for the future
  • Life change
  • Change to happen
  • It enhances the community (is better)
  • Empowerment
  • Better health and social outcomes in the community/ relationships/ individual
  • Higher protective factors, fewer risk factors
  • So they feel like they belong and matter
  • Future healthy adults
  • Because no matter who you are or where you come from every person has value and can contribute their voice to make a positive difference in their community
  • To ensure the youth can be productive citizens in the community
  • Empower the next generation
  • Create positive change
  • To understand their identity
  • Community change
  • For society!! and what’s to come
  • Our humanity is dependent on it
  • Students do not always know what’s best
  • It matters because it redirects their energy, it lets them know they matter and gives them a sense of purpose

3. When Does Youth Engagement Happen?

  • When we listen to our youth
  • When we really care
  • When a connection is made
  • Daily and when students initiate with direction
  • When you make it relate to them
  • When they can express their passion
  • When youth are in pain looking for something different/ more than their current experience and situation
  • All the time!
  • Throughout a lifetime
  • When you people are part of the decision-making process
  • When we create the space or join it!
  • When prevention folks put in extra effort
  • When I stay out of it!
  • When they are able to take possession (own it)
  • When they are listened to
  • When adults stop talking long enough to listen
  • When adults listen
  • When youth believe in what they are doing
  • When kids are treated as experts in the topic or “them”
  • When youth see beyond themselves

 

4. What Does Youth Engagement Do?

  • Encourages
  • Reduces abuse
  • Empowers youth
  • Improves communication
  • Leads the pack
  • Creates opportunity
  • “Plants seeds of change”
  • Changes directions of ones’ life
  • Empower!
  • Build life skills
  • Fosters leaders and followers for all sectors and levels of society
  • Creative outcomes
  • Moves mountains
  • Access most valuable resources: Our Youth!
  • Helps to ensure we create youth who will change the world
  • Provides vision
  • Builds relationship
  • Connects generations
  • Gives knowledge
  • Builds confidence
  • (can) Creates safe space
  • Empowers young people
  • Builds skills
  • Offers hope
  • Creates change agents in the community

 

5. Who Is Youth Engagement For?

  • The City of Columbus, families, and the continuous business growth of our city (purposeful, financially sound, etc.)
  • Communities, families and peers
  • Me
  • Everyone!
  • Middle and high school youth in Union County but also all youth and youth workers
  • For all the youth in the community and adults involved with them
  • All people invested in young people
  • Students of Lucas County – ALL of them!
  • Community
  • Whole community
  • Local, national and global communities
  • Inner city – low income families and youth! As well as the program facilitators and mentors
  • Summit and Medina County students
  • The community
  • The rural Appalachian youth covering 2,600 square miles we serve in Ross, Pickaway, Pike, Fayette and Highland Counties
  • Middle and high school students in Clement Co.
  • Afterschool program at middle school – 70% free/ reduced lunch

6. Where Does Youth Engagement Happen

  • Anywhere!
  • School
  • Summer camps
  • Online
  • Texting
  • In relationship
  • Where there is youth!
  • Family night engagement activities with afterschool students
  • Community
  • After school
  • In school
  • At home
  • Social network
  • Anywhere that you show intentional use of self
  • Wherever they are
  • Afterschool and in the community
  • With our communications
  • In our neighborhood
  • In the hearts and minds of our youth
  • Now – anywhere!
  • Across the social ecological model
  • Where there is love
  • Coalition meetings
  • School, home, anywhere
  • Parent-free areas (not the good youth engagement)
  • Everywhere
  • Anywhere there are youth
  • Where there is need and the desire to make a difference
  • Everywhere
  • Wherever the message and connection happens
  • In the streets
  • Afterschool youth center
  • In our homes
  • School
  • Summer camps
  • Online
  • Texting
  • In relationships

 

There was so much information shared in this GREAT seminar! Watch for another post coming with a great artistic creation by the group.

 

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The Excitement of Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning has become an essential arrow in the quiver of youth development and education. But are we doing it right?

Today, I’m in Columbus, Ohio at the Prevention Action Alliance 2017 Adult Allies Summit. I’m excited to present here, among so many people who see themselves and their work as essential to the lives of youth, because they’re taking the right tact.

As I present on youth engagement through Project Based Learning, I’m reminded of research I’ve done on youth-driven programming across the country. So often, when they’re leading projects youth choose to take action and make a difference in the world around them. They want the vibrance and vitality of leading change, creating difference and fostering transformation in their own lives and the lives of their families, communities and the world.

That’s a tremendous opportunity! Think of the differences we could make as adult allies if we simply made space for young people to lead the projects they learn from, allowing them to create positive, powerful change in the world around us! Wow! Exclamation points!

My research through The Freechild Project has shown me that Project Based Learning should have seven main components:

  1. POWERFUL Youth Engagement—At the core of all Project Based Learning should be youth themselves. Planning, researching, teaching, evaluating, decision-making and advocacy provide potential learning opportunities throughout Project Based Learning as youth are scaffolded for action and supported in transformation.
  2. REAL Learning—Project Based Learning should have meaningful, substantive learning in its core. Learning shouldn’t be fake, pretend, meaningless or inconsequential.
  3. PRACTICAL Problems—Focused on actual challenges and meeting real needs, Project Based Learning should lift the lives of youth and their communities by facing practical problems head-on.
  4. LASTING Efforts—Sustained impact should be a goal of Project Based Learning at every turn. Focused on creating real change, young people and their lives should be transformed.
  5. OUTWARD Outcomes—Looking towards the world around us, Project Based Learning should be conducted toward and presented to people who aren’t involved, including adults, youth and families.
  6. CRITICAL Thinking and Action—Project Based Learning should center on social justice through positive, powerful action. Youth should consider the roles of oppression and empowerment, and the genuine possibilities for them to change the world.
  7. AUTHENTIC Action—Keeping it real is at the center of Project Based Learning when youth focus on what actually needs changed, what problems and challenges they actually face and are trying to solve, and what difference they make.

These components can allow the adult allies of youth—including youth workers, counselors, teachers and others—to enact meaningful, positive and powerful transformation in the lives of their participants. I’ve also learned that only then can we see the all of the positive outcomes that Project Based Learning fosters, including skills focused on Project Management; Time Management; Organization; Teamwork; Research; Procurement, and; Problem-Solving. Other outcomes include knowledge about Social Change; Community Building; Project Design and Implementation; Leadership; Social Justice; Courage in Action; and Creating the Future.

If there are higher goals for youth engagement, I still haven’t seen them!

If you want, I hope you’ll share your knowledge and ideas about Project Based Learning in the comments section below.

 

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Elsewhere Online

  • THE FREECHILD PROJECT—Freechild supports youth and adults working together to change the world in positive, powerful ways. My 15-year project with examples, resources and more.
  • EDUTOPIA—Our vision is of a new world of learning based on the compelling truth that improving education is the key to the survival of the human race. Lots of Project Based Learning resources.

 

3 Ways to Find Meaning During Life Transitions

We live in a time of transition. Social change is swirling like a righteous cyclones throughout our society, bringing social justice, massive disparities and a whirlwind of destruction, transition, and ultimately, transformation everywhere, affecting everyone all the time.

Lots has been lost through these times. Job security disappeared for many of us, and along with it economic certainty, ongoing professional development, and benefits like retirement and healthcare. We’ve been stripped of the crystalline certainties of the middle class, including home ownership, higher education, and savings. Some of us struggle to put food on the table and pay rent, while others hustle to keep their mortgages and car payments going.

How can we find meaning when its all stripped away? What do we do when it feels like everything is lost, like we’re drowning in hopelessness and we need something more than mere survival?

 

Learning How to Sustain Ourselves

Throughout my career, I’ve been teaching low-income youth, youth of color, rural and urban youth, and the adults who support them. I’ve found their passion, courage and determination to be simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating. Its exhilarating because of the ambition of youth; its frustrating because of the inability of adults to change their lives.

Worn down, beaten down, and otherwise held down throughout our lives, all kinds of parents, youth workers, teachers, counselors, and others are running low on juice right now. Its frustrating because nobody is teaching these essential warriors of truth and justice how to survive their professions.

About five years ago, I began facilitating self-sustainability workshops. Working with schools, youth programs, national organizations and at conferences across the nation, all kinds of adults and youth have been teaching me how they take care of themselves, how they support others, and what they do along the way. I’ve been collecting lessons from these workshops, and I want to share some of my learnings here.

 

3 Ways to Find Meaning During Life Transitions

This is a flyer for Adam Fletcher's "Self-Sustainability for Educators" workshop.
This is a flyer for Adam Fletcher’s “Self-Sustainability for Educators” workshop.

 


3 Ways to Find Meaning

Following are three ways I’ve been taught to find meaning in transitions.

  1. NAME YOUR STRENGTHS. When the world knocks us down and takes things away, its important to acknowledge the abilities we have within ourselves. These things can’t be taken away. When you name your strengths, don’t be vague or ambiguous; name specific, accountable realities. Make a simple list, draw a complicated mindmap, or just talk it over with yourself. If you’re a planner, you’d better name planning as a strength; artists, poets, builders, parenting, learning, advocating, driving and gardening all count, along with any specific skill you have. Knowledge counts too, so account for your professional knowledge, your personal hobbies and your downtime activities, too.
  2. DRAW IN SUPPORT. If you’re struggling in life, bring your supports together from the world around you. Those can be people, places, activities and other assets throughout your life. Again, you can write them down, brainstorm images or do whatever works. In some way though, account for the supports in your life, including books, heroes, family, friends and whatever else helps you get strong and stay that way. Then, when you’re feeling the most low and vulnerable, be grateful for those supports. Go through your list and say thanks for everything you’ve drawn in, whether in person, over the internet, on the phone or simply by yourself. Don’t just name them; name them and then thank them.
  3. TAKE ACTION. The temptation to remain still, be complacent and simply react to the situations we face can be overwhelming at times. However, once you’ve completed the first two steps here, you must must take action! Look at the abilities and capacities you personal have from step one, then match them to the supports you’ve identified in the world around you from step two. If a clear pathway isn’t automatically obvious, you have to clear out the fog from in front of your eyes and concentrate your vision. Do you even have a vision? Name one. Do you see the next steps? Take them. Do you need to name the next steps? Write them down. Make timelines, create plans, match the resources you already have and find the meaning in your life right now.

These three ways to find meaning in transitions. Whether you’re changing jobs, changing houses, changing yourself or changing the world, you can always use these three steps to take care of you, lift yourself up and make a difference in your own life. I hope you share your thoughts about them in the comments below.

 


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New Training Opportunities

Has your nonprofit received a grant to engage youth? Does your local conference need a keynote speaker? Do the staff in your agency need professional development? Contact me today to talk about what The Freechild Project can do for you!

The Freechild Project Training flyer

How to Recruit Youth Today

TPOYEadvert

Youth have many choices to make today.

Let’s say that you’re 18 years old. You left school before graduating, and your friend’s mom is letting you stay in their garage.

You have many choices, and they’re stacked like this:

  • Apply for jobs
  • Break into a car to steal something
  • See if your old girlfriend wants to have sex

What’s going through your mind right now?

Curiosity floods your brain. Even if you’re not sure you can get a job, you know its something you should do, compared to stealing something or having sex. You know what the right thing to do is, but you’re not sure why this job application would be different from any others.

If you truly wanted immediate satisfaction, you’d find an easy car to break into, right? Or you’d give that girlfriend a call. You wouldn’t even take a glance at the job form.

But that’s not how we are built when we are young people.

Years ago, I consulted with an organization that taught youth adult living skills for students who dropped out of high school. They would take high risk (high hope) youth around local colleges and show them three types of programs: One offered job training and job placement; another offered a GED, job training and placement; and another that helped them earn a diploma, get into college, through college and placed in a career. And then they were asked if they were interested in the college program.

You bet they were. You would be, and so would I—we’d all be curious about what allowed people to get into and through college if we never knew it.

Youth choose your program in a vacuum or by comparison

Simply opening a youth program doesn’t make youth attend it. We’re clear on that, right?

That’s because youth choose your program in a vacuum or by comparison.

Let’s look at choosing youth programs in a vacuum.

Say a teenager decides to smoke weed in her free time. She’s been taught about the dangers of drugs, has a stable home with two parents and has a bright future ahead of her.

She’s not asking why at this point in time, because she has a of joint in her hand given to her by her best friend who is sitting right across from her, so she’s making a decision in a vacuum.

The same vacuum concept applies to your youth program, too.

Let’s say you’re passionate about using theater to empower youth. You launched an afterschool drama program for teens in your neighborhood that lasts two hours every night, and youth aren’t showing up.

Sure, they looked at the flyers you posted around the neighborhood and sent home to parents. If they talk to you, you’re incredibly exciting.

When you pour over your grant application and promotional materials, everything screams for youth to come through the door, and yet they aren’t. They are working in a vacuum.

However, when youth look at your program flyer, they see the date and time and think of all the other things they could do, even if we don’t acknowledge those things. Youth who sit on the couch watching TV are choosing that, as are youth who spend hours surfing the Internet with no purpose.

Would you have more youth showing up if they could playing video games? Theoretically speaking, yes. So why not add video game time? Or better yet, offer video games and offer pizza every day? Would you have more youth show up then?

You see what’s happening here, don’t you? As the frivolous things increase, your desire for the program goes down. That’s because you’re no longer working in a vacuum – you’re working on comparison.

You’re comparing your original program focused on theater with every other activity that was added onto it. And you compared your interest in theater to your interest in video games and pizza.

Right now, if you’re still determined, you’ll not only focus on theater, but you might even choose a specific style of theater you’re passionate about, like street performing or children’s theater.

But there’s a reason for that, and its called—and it’s called comparison.

Two distinct choosing phases

When young people choose anything, they’re almost always going through two distinct phases. The first phase is when they consider choices in a vacuum. Youth have been told to go to a program by their mom or teacher, but they have no clue why they should attend.

With all these options staring at them, young people simply pick the most immediate thing that fulfills their needs.

Using the ever-popular Maslow’s Hierarchy as a framework, it’s easy to understand why, after they have their survival and safety needs met young people aren’t automatically selecting to spend their time in your program.

You could start promoting your program on the basis of belonging. You could start telling them what it will do for their esteem. You might even appeal to their desire to make their hopes come true through your program.

But when you start illustrating those benefits clearly, young people are no longer working in a vacuum. Instead, they are comparing the benefits of what your program offers with what they’re doing with their time right now. They are comparing your organization to their friends, families and neighborhoods. They are even comparing the benefits of your program against each other by choosing which is more important to them according to Maslow’s Hierarchy.

If you make the case, at some point they will compare playing video games, eating pizza or smoking weed to your program—along with everything else at hand. Then it dawns on them that the most unusual thing they can choose, your program, is also the most beneficial—but now it doesn’t seem so unusual.

The best thing to do—attend your program—is now the most obvious thing to do, and they will choose it, but only in comparison.

So, how should you promote your program?

If your program operates where few others do, you can stop trying to be everything to every youth all of the time. Instead, focus on one thing and do that thing excellently.

If you’re competing for the attention, energy and time of young people then you’ll have to play by their rules. Listen to them, validate what they’re saying, authorize them to do something, take action and reflect on it with them.

However, if you have a lot of time where you’d offer your program regularly and you’re looking for something else to do to serve youth, then you can have several versions of your program or other programs to offer. Young people can then move from comparing your program to other programs in the neighborhood toward comparing your program to other programs you offer.

For example, if you run a theater program, young people can choose from your agency’s theater program, which is short and fun, and your fiscal education program, which is longer and more intellectual.

Even in a very competitive neighborhood where your program is competing with other youth programs, gang membership, ample youth jobs and sitting around the house, you want to create a situation where they have stopped considering everything else and are now choosing from your organization’s range of programs.

If you’re offering a program where there’s nothing else like it in your community, then there’s still a reason for creating a comparison structure.

Youth will look around and choose whether to get involved based on how you appeal to their needs according to Maslow’s Hierarchy — even if they’re comparing apples to oranges.

For example, if you were to recruit for a program on outdoor education and a program on service learning, they aren’t particularly similar. Yet, the benefits of one program influences how youth look at the benefits of the other program.

And even if a young person selects one program your organization offers this time, next time they may move to your program, depending on your ability to benefit them.

Create that comparison

Whether you’re recruiting youth for a photography course, youth employment program, interpretive dance workshop, or GED classes, the one factor to remember is that young people either choose in a vacuum or in a comparison structure.

You want to get them to compare. Once you’ve gotten them to pay attention to your program, you should then have a series of benefit comparisons on your own flyer and website.

Create that comparison. Even if you don’t have a range of programs yet, get started moving in that direction today.

When you do, you can still list (or decrease) the list of benefits to appeal to youth. Remember that they want to make choices, and they do not want to be told what to do.

It’s at that point that youth comparing benefits becomes a strategy, by discouraging them having a knee-jerk reaction.

And it’s at that point that you getting youth through the door en masse. That will make you—and the youth you work with—a lot happier.

SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum by Adam Fletcher

SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum promo flyer

Order your copy of the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum: Teaching Students to Change Schools today from Amazon.com!

This publication is also available for customization for your organization. Contact me to learn more.

 

 

Washington GEAR UP

The GEAR UP program fosters college awareness and readiness for low-income middle and high school students by providing a variety of programs targeted to educators. The University of Washington state GEAR UP program serves 5,700 students in 36 schools and 29 school districts throughout Washington state.

Challenge

The state’s major GEAR UP program was faced with normalized student disengagement among their target participants, including low-income, students of color, and migrant/bilingual students. They needed to increase facilitator effectiveness, and decided that modeling and intensive professional development were the best avenues for action.

Solutions

The University of Washington State GEAR UP program contracted with me from 2005 to 2007 to facilitate several training activities for almost 300 middle and high school students. In 2007, I facilitated a week-long professional development retreat for local coordinators focused on Meaningful Student Involvement.

Outcomes

I facilitated a 36-hour intensive program designed to increase program efficacy and outcomes. Participants reported their work would be transformed, their approaches would refocus on student engagement, and that they had the resources they needed to take strategic steps.

Recommendation

“Adam works tirelessly to create environments and cultures where youth develop and wield the knowledge and power to positively impact not only their lives but also society. He is one of the most knowledgeable, innovative, and effective facilitators, writers, educators, and thinkers in the field. Adam brings theory and reality together in praxis that reveals how utopic visions can become a reality.” – Christin Chopra, former Manager, University of Washington GEAR UP


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This is a flyer for Adam Fletcher's "Self-Sustainability for Educators" workshop.
This is a flyer for Adam Fletcher’s “Self-Sustainability for Educators” workshop.

North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center

The North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center works statewide to develop, promote and implement sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life of rural North Carolinians.

Challenge

In 2011, the Center wanted a nationally-respected, research-driven motivating keynote speaker focused on youth engagement to address their annual gathering called the Rural Partners Forum, with 750+ attendees from economic, academic, social, and political backgrounds. They also needed a facilitator to drive a conversation focused on youth engagement for the state’s mayors gathered at the forum.

The following year, the Center sought to publish a chapter about youth engagement for a forthcoming handbook they were creating for a statewide initiative.

Solutions

After crafting a dynamic address for the forum and leading the mayor’s gathering effectively, Adam was contracted to draft a knowledge-sharing, skill-building publication for the Center called the New Generation Initiative Youth and Young Adult Engagement Guide. After providing more than 100+ pages of original content in less than three weeks, the Center then contracted with Adam to facilitate a statewide training workshop focused on the Guide’s contents in November 2012.

By providing motivational speeches, facilitation, technical assistance and professional development, Adam’s work drove a successful program launch and influenced ongoing action in North Carolina.

 

Resources

 


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Institute for Democratic Education in America

In 2008, I presented at the International Democratic Education Conference, or IDEC, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Facilitating several sessions on the possibilities of democratic education within public school systems, I shared my work on Meaningful Student Involvement and my findings from my work in Washington state’s education community.

IDEA

I was invited to join a conversation about founding a new organization that would take that idea further. Sitting in a room at the University of British Columbia, an idea was borne. A few years later, I joined many of the same folks at a retreat in rural Colorado, examining our beliefs about education and growing the potential for an organization. Less than a year later, the Institute for Democratic Education in America, or IDEA, was formally launched. Since then I’ve been a founding advisor with the privilege of sharing my thoughts with IDEA’s leaders occasionally.

In fall 2012, I was invited to increase my involvement by becoming a sort of consultant to the organization. As a “weaver”, my role is to increase interplay between the IDEA education organizing team and support the success of senior fellows in the organization. Today, I discern best practices and facilitate cross-interest learning in a variety of ways. Its an interesting experiment growing a national organization, and IDEA is on its way!