Freedom House offers high-quality educational programs which help students thrive, create, explore, challenge and grow! Freedom House created the Preparing Urban Students for Success in High School and Higher Education (PUSH) program to increase lifetime earnings of young people, thereby reducing poverty, and to create 21st century skills for employability. The PUSH program platform helps students develop the skills, strategies and support networks necessary to ensure that urban students graduate from high school, access higher education and graduate from college with the skills which enable them to participate and succeed in a global economy.
There is room for creativity in any activity, and it is important to be intentional about looking for it so that your program’s activities do not unintentionally stifle students’ creativity.
It is necessary for staff members to be able to adjust quickly and not be married to agendas or schedules so as to be able to respond positively to student creativity.
It is important for staff to build strong relationships with students so that students feel like the staff has their backs so that they feel comfortable enough to take risks and go out of their comfort zones.
Creativity in students often takes creativity in staff to find fun and exciting ways to keep students engaged with activities and projects.
Are there any specific projects or activities that you do at Freedom House that are especially good at fostering Creativity?
Last summer we had a mayoral forum. We had three candidates who were on the ballot, and then we also had dialogue with Mayor Walsh. When we were preparing with our students for the forum, we really just asked them, “what are your concerns?” School was one of the big areas that came up, with the question, “what can be done to help me learn better?” The other big area that came up was rewriting our narrative. So looking at the narrative of black and brown girls, and boys, and finding areas that lack equity and resources that are keeping the students back from actually pursuing and and succeeding in what they’re passionate about. We split up into groups, and we went through what research is, we went through what data is, we had folks come in who were able to show them what the image was that was being portrayed in schools versus the real narrative of the city. And they did a phenomenal job because they just started taking the lead and adding the meat to it. At the forum, young people who were about to be 18 were in the room, being engaged, standing up in front of tons of folks and asking questions that apply to them, and their neighborhoods, and their surroundings. And they did their homework, and they came to the table with numbers and data. I think some people were really shocked, like how do they know all of this stuff? That was inspiring.
This summer we’re hoping to do a project about running a business. One of our guiding questions will be, “How do you gain knowledge about contacting people to solicit donations?” We’re really just going to give them as many tools as possible so that they feel like they can own it. Every summer what’s amazing is that students want to come back because they feel like their voice is heard. I think the root of the creativity is really just them seeing the importance of their voice being heard, and them wanting to now pursue whatever project, whatever dream, whatever it is that they want to pursue, because they’re owning it.
Do you have any specific language or practices as a staff member to help the students see that there is room for creativity maybe in just a discussion around a table and not a more traditionally creative scene?
This summer, we’re looking to have an engineering and computer science class, where they’re building out their own fitbit. A literal created fitbit. And that’s teaching them creativity in STEM and lots of other areas, like how to market, that’s teaching them teamwork, that’s teaching them how to use a 3D printer. It’s exposing them to going to Northeastern where they’re seeing a STEM lab. We’re showing them there’s more to STEM than sitting down and writing code. At the end of the day, Freedom House focuses on exposure. And for our students, some of the acronyms or terms could go over their heads, but they’re actually tangibly doing it. We’re exposing students to an array of different avenues of connecting with professions that they may not see as something that is fun. When we think about summer programming as well, we always think of creative ways that we can expose students to something that’s new. They already showed the interest, but they might have these preconceived notions of what that looks like. Last summer we went to MassArt, and they were not super excited about it, but when we got a chance to go in the different labs there, and see the work being done, they were like, “Oh I actually want to try this. Potterty’s not actually just somebody just sitting there just doing something boring.” They’re trying new things and being creative in unfamiliar ways. I think that’s what makes Freedom House Freedom House.
How as a staff member do you navigate that balance between providing structure for students without stifling any of their creativity?
I understand the importance of not being married to an agenda. And that’s something that I’ve learned at Freedom House. We can come in here with an agenda and we can push something, but if we do that we may miss the opportunity to hear what other folks have to contribute at the table. I think that can be applied to every arena. When you play basketball, you can draw up a play, but if it’s just not working, you have to be able to just adjust. To just adjust, and to fill in and help where you’re needed, is an extension of that, that I learned here. We’re a smaller staff, but we serve a lot of students. We have to rely on each other to function as a machine. There’s also a balance too of course. When you come into a meeting, and you have a set hour you need to get things done. But if the conversation diverts in any way, can we go with that diversion? Going with the diversion is what we strive to do.