The Leaders through Education, Action, and Hope (LEAH) Project works with BPS high school students during the school year and summer. The high school students teach STEM material to and cultivate positive relationships with BPS elementary school students.
Opportunities for collaboration and team-building help to create a supportive climate between youth.
Positive peer-to-peer relationships are most evident during free time, before or after structured activities.
Providing opportunities for leadership and feedback from youth can ensure that their needs are met.
Encouraging youth to take initiative and hold each other accountable to clear expectations can prevent negative behaviors such as bullying.
Q: Describe a typical relationship between peers at your program (e.g. are they best friends?). What does your staff do to promote these types of relationships?
A: The LEAH Project incorporates team building exercises throughout the program to continually facilitate positive interactions between different youth with the ultimate goal of creating a safe environment for friendships to develop. LEAH intentionally spends a significant amount of time during training and orientation with team builders and name games, group agreements, and a Life Maps activity before beginning training on the work topics and content areas. Life Maps is one of the returning youths’ and the LEAH staff’s favorite sessions of the year. Usually this workshop is scheduled over dinner to have informal social time before to relax. Life Maps is a time for youth to share their unique stories and goals. Each youth has time to draw their “life map” past, present, and future on big pieces of flip chart and then are asked to share (what they are comfortable sharing) to the group. At the end as a whole group we debrief the activity commenting on the similarities and differences of everyone’s life map.
“LEAH has taught me that my voice matters and to always advocate for myself. It has also taught me that if I work hard I am capable of accomplishing the goals that I set for myself.” – Khali, 3rd year Mentor
The LEAH Project’s training and orientation for all new youth devotes a lot of time to team builders and icebreakers in order to build trust, cooperation, and accountability amongst youth and staff. Generally youth who begin at the LEAH Project in the same cohort are closer because they go through training and orientation together. Additionally, LEAH Mentors work in pairs so these pairs get to be very close. To ensure that all youth get to know each other and are comfortable with each other, LEAH staff intentionally create small groups or pairs of youth during workshop activities to ensure all youth work with each other throughout the program. These team builders occur when the entire group of youth meets weekly.
It is always great to hear of youth who met in LEAH who hang out outside of programming and the friendships they have formed! Some youth always meet up before meetings to grab a snack, study together at the library, or hang out on weekends.
Q: What are some examples of positive interactions you’ve seen between youth at your program?
A: Youth tend to show up early for our weekly meetings, during both the school year and summer. They come and hang out in the office to talk to staff or their peers, to do homework, or to take a nap before work. I love to listen to the casual conversations between youth. They talk about school, impart advice about classes to each other, discuss their current Netflix shows, and help each other with homework. I always enjoy seeing youth who haven’t really talked with or interacted with each other connect when they both come early and they’re just hanging out. These connections have led to these youth forming friendships, working together during projects or asking each other for best teaching practices to apply at their summer camp sites.
One of the best times to observe the youth is just before meetings begin. Our youth come in and yell each other’s names, hug each other, greet each other, and ask each other how they are. They yell, “I haven’t seen you in forever” – even if they saw each other yesterday. They greet staff; and staff greet the youth. Everyone is included which is an important result of the teambuilding that we do with youth at the start of the year.
“Sometimes I come to reminisce those times where I didn’t share my opinion in a group discussion because I was very shy. I didn’t want to speak. I didn’t like my accent. There was a time where I needed to give a speech at an end of year event. I was nervous and overwhelmed, but when I was up there presenting I felt so confident and prepared that I was able to speak clearly and comprehensively to the crowd. LEAH has helped me overcome my obstacles and fears.” –Carlos, LEAH Alum
Q: What do you do to ensure that youth respect and listen to each other?
A: Setting up Group Agreements at the beginning of the program year and referring back to them throughout the year helps to continually remind both youth and staff to follow these mutually decided upon rules.
LEAH encourages youth ownership and leadership as much as possible in programming. Youth lead workshops and trainings for each other, help plan events, and help figure out what topics to cover throughout the program year. LEAH also has different youth-led committees to ensure youth voice in all aspects of programming. These committees focus around topics such as policy, community service, college planning, and social activities, and youth get to choose which committee they want to be in, including if they want to create a new committee. The goal is for the youth to develop programming in these different areas with support from the LEAH staff. Since creating these committees, youth have been more engaged, attendance has increased for college visits, and program policies have been updated to better reflect what the youth feel they need and want in this program. This leadership contributes to high levels of respect amongst each other and increases listening to each other.
“[It] has brought so many positive things into my life. I have gained many joyful memories and experiences, both with my fellow mentors and the elementary school students. [It] has allowed me to grow as a person and as a role model for young people to them grow as well.” –Khali, 3rd year Mentor
One LEAH staff member asked a LEAH Mentor what she thought staff did to ensure LEAH Mentors respect and listen to each other. She pointed out that LEAH staff intentionally facilitate discussions to help youth understand different perspectives and points of view. She found it a really important and helpful aspect of programming. For example, LEAH Mentors teach at summer camp and afterschool programs, and some of the LEAH Mentors were discussing how to deal with situations where the elementary school students in summer camps they work with were misbehaving. In reaction to this conversation LEAH staff facilitated a discussion about how LEAH Mentors defined misbehavior, what some of the reasons could be for youth to “misbehave,” and a reflection for LEAH Mentors to think about when they were younger and how adults treated them. Several of the LEAH Mentors commented that they had not thought about why youth might “misbehave” and even that “misbehavior” is defined differently by different people.
Q: What does your staff do to reduce or react to bullying that may occur between youth?
A: LEAH sets clear boundaries and expectations at the beginning of the program year and continually reference them in different ways and through different activities. Additionally, LEAH encourage youth leadership and ownership in the program.
Last school year, a LEAH Mentor, who had been a part of the LEAH Project since the summer of 2014, began to notice that not all Mentors were engaged at the level he thought embodied the values of the LEAH Project. He approached LEAH staff with a request to discuss this with his peers without LEAH staff being present to encourage all Mentors to participate. After practicing facilitation with staff, he successfully led a potentially tense conversation about LEAH expectations, professionalism, and cell phone or technology use during meetings. The other Mentors’ reactions to this meeting were overwhelmingly positive, with many of them asking to have Mentor-led discussion time more often. This embodies the goals of this program to help nurture youth leadership skills to help them be successful in the academic and career realms.
“[It] has given me the opportunity to grow as a person. I have come to understand the importance of youth voice and I how I have the ability to influence the lives of others. I have gained new friends, leadership skills, and wonderful experiences with the kids I work with.” – Andrianne, 3rd year Mentor
The youth in the LEAH Project keep each other motivated, on task, and accountable. This is one of the best outcomes program staff can ask for because we get to act as supporters while these talented and motivated youth take the wheel learning and practicing skills to help them succeed in professional and personal areas.
The LEAH Project was established in 2005 with the mission to cultivate the power of youth to transform their lives and communities through science, education, and service. LEAH is a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), college readiness, and workforce development program for low-income BPS high school students of color. LEAH supports these students to reach their college and career goals; creates pathways to college for these students; and addresses the disparity of Black and Latino youth in post-secondary education, particularly in STEM fields. These youth, known as LEAH Mentors, are placed in out-of-school time programs such as YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs to provide additional STEM education, academic support, and near-peer role modeling to elementary school aged youth. LEAH’s goals are to close the STEM achievement gap, increase access to post-secondary education, and promote job readiness. Since its start, the LEAH Project has trained more than 175 BPS high school students as Mentors and has engaged more than 5,000 elementary students with additional STEM instruction and near peer role modeling.