Crossroads for Kids is a five-year long program for that works with at-risk 3rd through 8th graders, and uses experiential learning to provide learning opportunities in leadership development, character growth, community action, and college and career readiness.

Key Takeaways

  • Each day focuses on honing a specific leadership skill.

  • The program uses an experiential learning model in which students reflect at the end of the day.

  • While the activities and challenges are structures, students have choice in how they go about accomplishing the task.

Q: How were activities structured at your site – was there an ongoing project all summer? Curricular units?


A: There are ongoing projects all summer, in the sense that the skills build on each project to the next. The programming over the summer focuses on leadership development. Every morning there is a leadership skill-building lesson where students learn about and practice a skill, discover why it is important to for them to have as leaders, and then reflect on it. The programming for the rest of the day is focused on practicing that skill.


In the morning, they are together in a classroom setting. In the afternoon they can go to the ropes course, the waterfront, the climbing wall, or hiking, and practice that skill. At the end of the day the students have time to reflect on how they did, where they feel they need to grow, and give each other feedback.


Throughout the summer, there are also 3 or 4 thematic days, such as a leadership challenge where they receive a challenge and have all day to complete it with their group. Through these activities, they practice skills such as communication, teamwork, development, and collaboration.

Q: Of the activities offered this past summer, which do you feel were most successful? Consider youth engagement, critical thinking, collaboration, etc.


A: For this group of kids, their favorite activities are the leadership challenges, which are the themed days. Their favorite theme this summer was “Restaurant Wars,” based off of the reality TV show. They woke up in the morning and began their challenge. The goal of the challenge was for each small group to create a restaurant and serve dinner to the group and any guests. The students spend the whole day on this challenge. It is designed in a way that the elements leading up to the challenge cause them to reflect on the leadership skills they have learned.


For instance, prior to “Restaurant Wars,” there was an individual challenge to build a nest for an egg out of straw and tape, and drop it to see if the egg would crack. If their egg did not break, they had a chance to be one of the leaders of a restaurant. Also, the level of teamwork exhibited determined their budget for buying groceries for the meal.

Q: Did your site offer youth-choice for activities? If so, how was that facilitated?


A: We offer a lot of youth choice, but because parameters still exist, the students may not necessarily feel that we do. There is a lot of choice within the activity. During each activity, we do not tell them what to do, just which skill we want them to use to complete the activity. How they decide to go about the activity is their choice. When students start to utilize their creativity, that is when they realize their opportunities for youth choice.

Q: How did your site ensure that activities were challenging, and stimulated thinking for youth participants?


A: We use the experiential learning model for all of the activities that we do, which involves the following steps: have the experience, come back together as a group and explain what actions and events took place, reflect on the experience (what did you learn and can take away, and why does it matter), and then going back and doing it all again. It is this model that stimulates their thinking. Our staff are trained on reflection and debrief.


Having that commitment to that time at the end of each activity helps stimulate thinking, as well as knowing that right after reflection, they will have an opportunity where they can practice that skill and debrief again. In terms of keeping the activities challenging, we are in an outdoor education environment, which presents its own challenges. For many students they are outside of the community that they live in, with new people, where they are constantly building relationships and striving for new success.


In addition, during the first three years of our program we have a backpacking experience. The first year is a local, three-day backpacking trip, the second year is a five-day backpacking trip in the White Mountains, and the third year they fly somewhere for a ten-day backpacking experience. The whole point of the backpacking trip is to be challenged in an environment that they are unfamiliar with. Once they realize that they can be successful out of their element, they feel empowered and return feeling like they can tackle anything. All of the skills they learn at Crossroads for Kids prepare them to get through this challenge successfully.


Crossroads for Kids works with youth from risk-filled environments using a curriculum of leadership development, character growth, community action, and college and career readiness. The program uses an experiential learning model, which each cohort experiences for a continuous five-year period throughout summers and school year.