Wyman’s TLP Graduates, Head to College

For seniors in Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program (TLP), last Friday night was more than just the beginning of another weekend.

Instead, it marked their graduation from TLP and the beginning of their journey into higher education. The attending teens were all high school seniors, and their TLP graduation was concurrent to their high school graduation. Through TLP, these graduates possess knowledge of inestimable value: that, with the right resources and support, they are capable of achieving success well beyond the classroom.

Tim Kjellesvik addresses the crowd of teens and parents

Only five years ago these teens may have claimed that the thought of attending college was only a dream. Coming from economically disadvantaged communities and facing the uncertainty of lower life opportunities, these students—though bright and full of leadership potential—were at risk of continuing in a cycle of poverty that their circumstances often dictate.

But, in 7th grade, they were nominated for TLP; then, after submitting an application and participating in an interview, they became part of a program that focuses on building leadership abilities while exposing teens to the resources they need to be successful in life.

Now, five years later, they must say goodbye to one another as each and every one of them graduate high school and continue onto higher education. These seniors are on their way to colleges like Truman, SLU and Washington University, as well as other institutions across the nation.

This exemplary record of high school graduation contrasts sharply with the average graduation rates of 82% in the teens’ schools last year. The difference is a tribute to the effectiveness of the supports provided through TLP.

“Anyone that is part of [Wyman] has, in some shape or form, helped me to become who I am today,” Jarrid Snyder, a senior, reflects. “[They] motivated me and got me where I am today.”

The Teen Leadership Program was established in 2004, after Wyman narrowed its focus  on preparing teens from disadvantaged communities with the supports and opportunities they need to succeed in life. The first intensive residential experience occurred that summer, and the program—then only five years—expanded to a seven year college persistence program in 2011.

The additional two years are designed to address the financial, psychological, and institutional stress students are exposed to in their freshman and sophomore years—three crucial areas which account for up to 75% of a student’s decision to leave college.

Tim Kjellesvik, the TLP Director, has been with Wyman since the program’s inception, and is excited to see this graduating class—the first one to be a part of the college persistence program—continue in the program as they leave for college.

“Through the program, we can continue to support and encourage our teens as they make decisions to achieve the future they want for themselves,” he said. “This celebration is just the beginning for them.”Teen Leadership Program Graduation

Please join us in congratulating our teens; through the month of May, we plan to highlight each senior on our Facebook page!

American Graduate: Teen Voices

The Nine Network recently created a phenomenal opportunity for community partners engaged in the American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen initiative. With only 72% of students nationally earning their high school degree, the initiative is designed to increase community understanding and ownership of this true crisis and to help communities craft and implement solutions.

The tables were turned, and adults in the room spent the afternoon listening to the true experts – the young people themselves.  The panel included students currently in high school, students who have graduated, and students who had previously dropped out, and were now re-engaged in high school.

Their reflections were clear and powerful, and contain important reminders for the community and practitioners as we work to increase the number of students succeeding in high school.

  1.  Relationships with adults matter.  Multiple students spoke to the impact that adults can have – for better or for worse – on students.  While some students had support from their family, others did not.  For many, the support of an individual adult represented a turning point for them – helping them re-engage and get on the path to success.   One student encouraged the room to “keep bothering” students about staying on the right path until they hear it, and connect them with others who have been successful in navigating challenges and making it through high school.
  2. The community that surrounds us matters.  Students spoke to the challenge of persisting through high school when that is not the norm in their community.  Students described being the first in their family to graduate from high school, while other adults in their family were in prison or unemployed.  Students spoke to being around peers who don’t necessarily motivate them, or have high expectations that they themselves will graduate.  Students spoke about living in neighborhoods where it feels as if no one cares about whether they stay in school or not.  At the same time, students envisioned a community or neighborhood in which neighbors would ask students why they aren’t attending school, and encourage them to stick with it.
  3. Life challenges have an impact.  Students spoke to the realities of real life situations: being a primary caretaker at home or holding a part-time job in order to support their family.  One student remarked, “Everyone goes through something…some people go through more than others.  If a kid is leaving school…then something is wrong.”  While students may be at a school for seven hours a day – what happens during the other 17 has a profound impact on their ability to be successful.
  4. Learning needs to be engaging and relevant.  Students spoke to success, excitement, and engagement when educators found ways to make the curriculum relevant to real life, applicable to their learning styles, and connected to them.
  5. I can and want to give back.  As the panel wrapped up, it was clear that these young people are motivated to succeed.  Many spoke about their future aspirations, AND the role that they can play in keeping other students engaged and in school.

Thanks to the student panelists who shared openly and honestly.  Engagement of student voice, ideas, and actions is critical to addressing the high school drop-out crisis, and creating opportunities for success for ALL young people in our communities.

The student panel represented Shearwater High School, Innovative Concept Academy, Roosevelt High School’s Academic Leadership Academy, and Lincoln University’s St. Louis Urban Impact Center

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten – But Why?

Image from OpenLibrary.org

Remember that kitschy little book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten?  You might remember flashbacks of it during its peak in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Cute little posters were made with the text, and teachers proudly displayed it in their classrooms. The ingenuity of its simpleness spawned a #1 New York Times Bestseller with over 7 million copies sold. The author, Robert Fulghum had apparently struck a sensitive nerve for many Americans–we all need to know the basic principles of ‘how to be a person’, not simply in grade school.

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

…Live a balanced life.

Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.

In education, there are wild debates about whether teachers even have the capacity to teach these types of lessons that encourage social and emotional skills within their day. Given the emphasis on testing, national standards and the lagging achievement in American education, teachers are often overwhelmed with the academic information they must teach their classrooms, let alone lessons around responsibility and empathy.

As a nation, solely emphasizing skills in math and science is short-sighted. Though academic achievement is important, it cannot be attained when neglecting the social and emotional needs of our kids. Promotion from kindergarten indicates that the work of becoming a compassionate and understanding person is done.

Yet, these are lessons that must be taught and reinforced throughout life. Relationships only get stickier as we get older. Friendships can become more intricate as elementary schoolers progress to middle school. However learning how to be kind and respectful is a quality that can create stronger communities across the nation. Perhaps a symptom of this breakdown is what seems to be an increase in the severity of bullying in communities both rural and urban.

Teaching How to be a Person Bolsters Academic Achievement!

Research finds that when young people have the basic social and emotional skills to handle everyday life, not only does it enhance their general well-being, but their achievement soars as well. We see this phenomenon being realized in youth development programs on a daily basis and it’s been proven by countless studies conducted by numerous researchers such as the National Collaboration for Youth. In a brief on school success, the National Collaboration for Youth found that “the motivation and concentration levels of young people were much higher in informal youth programs than they were in school (or when hanging out with friends), suggesting the untapped power in youth development programs that can positively impact school performance.”

Why not do both? If research shows these types of skills are critical to learning, wouldn’t it be mutually beneficial for both types of teaching to occur? It is probably true that given the stress on teachers today, they feel they do not have the expertise or time to teach students how to be a good neighbor, make positive decisions or set achievable goals. However, replicating youth development programs in partnership with schools might just be the answer to both issues.

Embedding programs such as Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program, which teaches skills such as good communication and self-regulation, within the school day is just one example of how Wyman is taking an innovative approach to preparing teens to not only be academically qualified, but socially and emotionally ready to become productive members of society. These are lessons that should not only be taught when our young people are first placed into the school system, but also taught throughout their lives. Check out more about our embedded partnership with University City here.

St. Louis teens voice stories about their local schools

asking questions in classOver the past few decades, the topic of education and the state of our nation’s school systems has become highly argued and polarized. From discussions regarding teacher pay and tenure to low academic performance, schools have become a battlefield for politicians, educators, parents and advocates all over the nation.

Lost, however, are the stories of hope and promise. Through collaboration between Focus St. Louis’ Youth Leadership Program and the E. Desmond Lee Professor in Collaborative Regional Education at Saint Louis University, 160 high school students representing 24 schools in the St. Louis Metropolitan Region were trained in participatory action research to get a better picture.

Students were charged with the task of gathering stories that illustrated what was right with their schools and the result is a compilation of stories that compromise many of the negative views that we hold concerning secondary education in the St. Louis region.

Though it is critical to obtain a broader statistical view of the state of education in the St. Louis Region to truly understand how the region is doing, this begins to paint a picture of hope for some of our area’s institutions and the good that is happening there through the lens of our region’s very own teens.

Check out the article and let us know what you think.

What’s Right with our Schools or 7 Myths that High School Students Disprove

High School Students – Win for writing about positive change

Are you a high school or college student who writes for social justice and positive change? Then write for the Student Stowe Prize For Excellence in Writing to Advance Social Justice! Click here to find out more about the Harriet Beecher Stowe Student Prize. Submission deadline is February 27, 2012.

student writing

The Student Stowe Prize recognizes outstanding writing by United States high school and college students that motivates positive action for social justice. The Prize recognizes writing that is making a tangible impact on a social justice issue critical to contemporary society.   Issues may include, but are not limited to: race, class and gender. Entries must have been published or publicly presented.

Breaking cycles of poverty through educational attainment and positive youth development

This graph pretty much says it all.

When teens graduate from high school, tremendous impact is made in their ability to break free from the cycles of poverty. Check out the numbers from the United States Department of Labor in August of 2011. Unfortunately for many school districts across the United States, graduating from high school is not the norm. The Nine Network’s American Graduate Project reports that in our home city of St. Louis, the graduation rate for the St. Louis Public School District (SLPS) was 62.2% for the 2010-11 school year, which reflects steady improvement over the past several years and ranks SLPS below the national average, but better than the 53% graduation rate reported by the nation’s largest cities.

Helping teens graduate is NOT ENOUGH.

Though the task of helping teens graduate from high school is great, it cannot be the end response to the issue. The larger responsibility as parents, teachers, community leaders and mentors is to help them finish as prepared and skilled individuals who are ready to tackle life in its many ups and downs. One can have a high school diploma and yet lack social and emotional skills that are necessary to hold a job or be a good parent.

At Wyman, we prepare our teens to not only graduate from high school, but also to persevere in the face of difficulty; set achievable goals, meet those goals and continue the process; and to learn how to be a sincere human who cares for the needs of others. What more, there’s research behind our methods. Google “positive youth development” and see what you come up with.

Those are just a few of the ways that Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program and Teen Leadership Program are helping our teens to not only graduate, but gain the tenacity and skills necessary to succeed beyond the classroom.