The PIC with Freedom House is a summer remediation program that works with high school juniors and seniors by providing employment and academic opportunities.
Leadership opportunities are presented to students through public speaking. Public speaking gives students the ability to articulate themselves and the confidence to speak out. These opportunities take students outside of their comfort zones and help further develop their leadership abilities.
Students learn how to lead by working with groups of younger students.
Program leaders create a space where students are comfortable voicing their concerns.
Orientations prior to the start of the program allow program leaders to tweak the program based on student feedback.
Rather than approaching each grade level differently, program leaders evaluate students’ leadership abilities individually and then adjust their practices.
Q: What are two or three examples of students taking leadership roles in your program?
A: An example of that is students stepping into a facilitator role and leading the other students in the session. Peer-to-peer leadership is powerful for us when we see a student is able to do that. Many of our students have not been put in leadership roles to lead their other peers, so sometimes it can be foreign to them.
Another example is our program’s check-ins. For a lot of students, and adults, public speaking can be frightening. So to get them out of their comfort zone and to speak in public for the first time is an example of leadership. A student going up to the podium, even for thirty seconds, allows them to have the floor and bring out their leadership skills. At that age, especially in high school, one of the biggest issues they have is being put on the spot. A lot of times when a kid does not have that confidence being put on the spot, especially in front of their peers, it is one of the toughest obstacles to overcome.
In addition, depending on the worksite, the student is in charge of a group of younger kids. They are leaders of that small group. It is a peer mentoring program. We lead the students, but then they lead another group of younger students.
Q: How does your program incorporate student feedback into planning?
A: The first thing that I realized upon joining the staff is that Charmaine and Jonathan [program managers] set up a structure for open discussion. If a student has anything they want to speak about and it was a constructive conversation that the whole group can get into, then it was treated like an open floor. As the summer went on and they got more comfortable, we felt like they came to us more frequently with their issues. Students are given the stage to share their feedback. All of our workshops and curriculum are set ahead of time. We take the input that students give us for each workshop into consideration when we are tweaking our curriculum. At the end of the day, their feedback helps us evaluate what went well, what didn’t work well, what we need to tweak, and what was successful.
We also have program orientations with the students at the start of the program where we lay out what the structure is going to be and our expectations of behaviors, and then we open it up to questions and get their thoughts on what we should or should not change. If we think it is a good idea, we definitely will change things up a couple of weeks before the start of the program because we still have enough time to plan for that.
Q: What are some strengths of your program’s student leadership opportunities as well as the challenges?
A: A strength of our program is the public speaking aspect. It’s a huge strength when it comes to leadership opportunities, because if you are not a confident person and do not have the ability to articulate yourself, it is definitely an obstacle. It is something that translates directly into the classroom.
One of the challenges is that some of the students don’t see themselves as leaders. They have been labeled, and some of them see themselves as that label and try to live it out. But when they are in the program and we do not support that label. Therefore, it becomes about the individual and how they see themselves. Furthermore, our population is very diverse. Often students who are English Language Learners are afraid to stand in front of a group and speak because they may have a strong accent. But on the flip side of that, we also have seen students overcome this.
Q: What are the steps you take when you see a student who is struggling to take on a leadership role?
A: We eliminate all of the excuses that we can right from the start. We tell them that they were recruited for a reason to be a part of this program, so they are here to bring something to the table. We show from the beginning that we are building relationships and trying to help them. When they see how willing we and the teacher are to help, they realize how invested we are in their summer. Many of these students might not have a lot of leadership opportunities or role models. So very rarely will they trust us right away. It is often a process of getting them to trust us and having them realize that, while we are always going to hold them to those high expectations, it is for a good reason.
Q: How would you apply this practice to different age groups?
A: Overall we do not approach working with 9th graders versus 12th graders any differently. However, there is definitely a maturity difference. In that situation we know we have to tweak what we are doing with that particular workshop. That may just be by language, it may be the nature of the activity. But is does depend on the student. We come in to the program with the belief that all our young people are on the same level playing field. We have high expectations across the board. When we begin to develop relationships with students and learn their different maturity levels, then you can begin to adjust to meet their needs.
The PIC with Freedom House is a remediation program that works with a select group of Burke high school students, and just wrapped up its fifth consecutive summer. There is an academic component in the morning and a work component in the afternoon, so that the students participate in meaningful work experiences. The program also has students participate in youth development workshops through the Freedom House. By doing so, the program not only helps the students with school work, but also to allows them to earn a paycheck. The program also focuses on the students’ social and emotional wellbeing.