National Network Spotlight: The Greater St. Louis Federation of Settlement Houses and Neighborhood Centers

Certified Replication Partners in our National Network are successfully replicating Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) across the country. The National Network Spotlight highlights a partner and celebrates its positive outcomes.

In the St. Louis metro area and East St. Louis, Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® Coordinators Sharon Williams and Kayla Bryant are witnessing how TOP® is changing the lives of 150 teens for the better. Williams and Bryant are a part of TOP® at the Greater St. Louis Federation of Settlement Houses and Neighborhood Centers, a Wyman National Network partner since 2010. The Federation has 10 TOP® clubs serving students in high school and middle school, and incorporates curriculum-guided group discussions and community service learning to provide young people with the skills and abilities they need to navigate life. For Bryant and Williams, the curriculum is key to creating impactful lessons and helping students make sound decisions about their future.

IMAG1657“I enjoy the freedom of the curriculum,” said Bryant. “It allows me to modify aspects of the lesson without changing the integrity of what is being taught.”

During lessons, the discussions are youth-led with a facilitator acting as mediator. For the sexuality lessons, Williams noticed how the teens led the facilitators through knowledge they gained from other programs and social services agencies. This opportunity to take initiative is one of the reasons why teens in the program are invested in their experience.

“Some of our teens have graduated from high school and still come back to be a part of club,” said Williams.

IMAG1650-1This approval from past and present TOP® participants drives the success of the program. According to Bryant, spreading the news of TOP® through the teens currently is the best source of advertisement for the clubs.

“Word of mouth truly works, and maintaining an energy around the program is what keeps students coming back year after year,” Bryant added. “We have a lot of returning teens this year, and it’s been great getting to see true measurable growth in their behavior and attitudes.”

A Resource Made by Teens for Teens

This post is written by Simone Bernstein, a sophomore at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., co-founder of Volunteen Nation with her brother, Jake.

Connected is one of my favorite words. So it is no wonder that being a volunteer helps me feel connected to my community. During high school, I was an avid volunteer at a local crisis nursery shelter for young children. I was invited, along with many of my peers, to join their Junior Board. The St. Louis Crisis Junior Board is comprised of young people (high school and college students) finding ways to promote the organization and assist with fundraisers for the agency. Junior Board members volunteer in the nursery with the children, help out at events and conduct their own smaller functions to benefit the Crisis Nursery Junior Board. It was an incredible opportunity for me to get involved, brainstorm, problem solve, and meet and share ideas with other dynamic youth volunteers. Teen advisory boards give youth a voice and demonstrate that adults are interested in hearing our ideas and suggestions. I was fortunate to find out about this volunteer and Junior Board opportunity from my neighbor. Yet, I was frustrated that it was so difficult to find volunteer opportunities for high school and middle school youth.

My brother and I searched online and realized there were limited opportunities for youth to volunteer on-site, since many organizations and nonprofit agencies had age restrictions due to safety, security and liability concerns. There was no regional website dedicated to youth volunteers. So my brother and I contacted local organizations that offered youth volunteer opportunities and encouraged others to create youth volunteer programs. We organized a regional website to make it easier for area youth to explore local volunteer opportunities. The success of the website inspired us to host an annual St. Louis Youth and Family Volunteer Fair and days of service for youth and families. The regional website serves as a resource for area schools, youth groups and nonprofit organizations.

We knew there were incredible opportunities for youth to volunteer throughout the United States at local libraries, serving on mayors’ youth advisory councils and at local hospitals, so we decided to create a national website for youth to explore and share volunteer opportunities in their communities and to encourage nonprofit agencies to find ways to include youth and families as volunteers. Every library, food bank and shelter can find ways to include youth volunteers. Youth want to get involved. VolunTEENnation.org wants America’s teens to give back to the community. To do this, Volunteen Nation is challenging every organization and American corporation to add a volunteer opportunity for teens to the site within the first 100 days.

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.

TLP Alumni Discuss Past Success and Future Plans

Graduating from high school and getting into college isn’t the end for Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program (TLP) alumni. Instead, the transition from high school to college is just the beginning of a whole new journey. On Tuesday, recent and past graduates of Wyman’s TLP gathered together for friendship, food, and the opportunity to discuss their future plans. Jessie P., a first year student at Lindenwood University majoring in Music Education, was thrilled to meet up with so many other 2011 graduates.

TLP Alumni Jessie P. and Angie W.

 “I’ve experienced so many challenges and so much growth relying on this group of teens; our time together taught me volumes about myself and my potential,” Jessie expressed.

Her success through Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program is not unique; many of the alumni mentioned TLP as a key component of their current achievements.

TLP structures its program around experiences and frameworks that young people need to successfully reach developmental milestones. Teens are accepted into TLP their eighth grade year; their early enrollment fosters their development of supportive relationships and their ability to navigate through diverse settings and experiences during their early, formative teen years.

For Angie W., TLP was an experience that helped define her future career goals. A self-described “shy teen”, Angie’s involvement in TLP allowed her to establish supportive relationships and step up as a leader in her school and community. Its influence, in fact, was crucial to her current career plans: as a future middle school math teacher, Angie is expected to confidently lead and inspire her students.

“Through TLP, I realized that someone believed in me, and now it’s my turn to believe in someone else,” she claimed.

The teens also reflected on their time in high school and as participants in TLP, appreciating the opportunities they had to challenge their characters by exploring the outdoors. These outdoor experiences represent only a portion of TLP’s meaningful activities yet demonstrate the program’s complete focus on positive youth engagement. As memories of whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and hiking flooded back, Jessie and Angie felt the power of these experiences on their lives.

“I know now how important it is to be pushed out of your comfort zone, and to overcome adversity,” said Jessie. “I hope to one day encourage my students that they can do the same.”

Penny

If it weren’t for Wyman

Penny, 22, was taken away from her parents at age 5 and placed into foster care. Growing up, Penny needed the skills and values to start her life in a positive direction. She found them at Wyman Center.

Wyman Center, a United Way supported agency, helps enable teens from disadvantaged circumstances lead successful lives and build strong communities. The Wyman Teen Leadership Program is a five-year program that starts with teens in the 8th grade. The program helps teens gain the experiences, skills and values needed to become contributing students, family members, employees and citizens.

“Wyman is a place where economic status and race don’t matter. Everyone is seen as equal, and everyone is given a fair chance for a successful future,” Penny said.

Penny became a participant of the Wyman Teen Leadership Program at 13. In the program she learned leadership and social skills she could not learn at home.

“Attending Wyman has made me the person I am today. The atmosphere is so positive,” Penny said. “Wyman created a place for me to come and escape the harsh realities of my neighborhood.”

Today Penny is a junior at Indiana University. She received a full scholarship through the Cheryl and David Morley Scholarship Endowment started by Wyman.

Penny believes that Wyman Center has made a huge difference in her life – so much of a difference, she’s been a counselor at Wyman’s Teen Leadership Program for three years. Because of her own experiences, Penny is able to relate to the kids on a personal level.

“I know what they are going through because I went through it,” Penny said. “I feel as if everything happens for a reason. I was taken away from my parents at the age of 5 and placed into foster care. Then, I was placed at Wyman. It was destiny.”