It is vital that we have hard conversations and challenge our thinking, and there is not a more willing group to do this than youth. Their perspectives are fresh, and they are ready to act. They are the change makers we need right now in a time when division is tangible and needs are extensive.
At Algoma High School, we are testing an approach in which youth build their capacity as leaders by learning how to lead from within, together, and for sustainable, equitable outcomes. We are calling this BETA, as it is a test of incorporating these concepts into the traditional public education system.
The goal of this approach is for youth to apply the tools and topics explored to a self-directed change initiative that improves the school and community. Through this, they are making real change that positively impacts their community while growing the skills and capacity to be contributing change agents in our society.
This youth change agent is introducing the Recharge Room which addresses the mental health needs in our school.
Youth participate in a team building activity to work on communication and collaboration.
*Hover over photos for descriptions. Click on photos to enlarge.
As Live Algoma was forming, youth independently started identifying needs within the community and taking steps toward addressing those needs. Student-directed change initiatives that emerged included Wolves and Pups, a mentor program between high school and elementary students; Wolf Den, an after school program that focuses on the emotional, social, and physical wellbeing of youth in grades K-6; Hands-only CPR and iSTAN simulator, initiatives that are teaching people of all ages life-saving skills. This work occurred in pockets which proved difficult to provide the necessary support. A common time and space was needed if we wanted to see these change initiatives and ways of being grow. Thus BETA was born.
BETA began in 2018 as a class that was offered for two hours with some youth available during both hours and others only available for part of the time. The structure created challenges as people were coming and going. The other challenge to address was breaking all of our conditioning created by numerous years in the traditional classroom setting. It took a conscious effort on everyone’s part to establish a space where adults and youth were viewed as equal contributors. Despite the challenges, the outcomes of this first year in terms of personal growth and change initiative success was inspiring.
Now in the second year of implementation, we are evolving, thanks to the lessons learned from the bright spots and failing forward moments of the previous year. Now, a two hour time block is making it easier to create consistency as well as developing cohesion among the group. We continue to explore the concepts surrounding social justice and ways of being, while applying the tools learned to self-directed change initiatives.
After school program that focuses on the emotional, social, and physical wellbeing of youth in grades K-6
The youth are innovators in the truest sense of the word. They are aware of the world around them, connecting with the feelings and experiences of others, and using their voices to make positive change.
They value growth and use what they learn to address personal challenges as well as injustices in their school and community. Their willingness to shift their lenses and address root problems is inspiring. They embrace curiosity and vulnerability as tools to dive deeper into hard conversations.
Twenty-one youth participated during the first round of BETA. The group during the 2019-2020 school year consists of eleven youth ages 15 to 18. Four have experienced BETA during the initial implementation and help continue the culture that was established.
In order to have difficult conversations and lean into discomfort, a space where everyone feels valued needed to be established. The work of Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, as well as the Courage and Renewal’s Circle of Trust Touchstones were used as foundations for the desired environment. A culture was built on the philosophy that no voice is privileged over another.
When you step into this space, you hear youth using open and honest questions to help one another find solutions to personal and change initiative challenges. You see them collaborating on their initiatives, determining their next steps. You witness them exploring difficult topics together, desiring to widen their lenses through which they see the world. You feel a sense of belonging. As Brene Brown states, “We can’t be brave in the big world without at least one small safe space to work through our fears and falls. We can be that space for each other.” BETA has become that space.
Beta has helped me to recognize inequity, understand my privilege, and challenge the implicit biases I hold. Through Beta, I was able to create a plan of action for myself and in conjunction with others to create real change in the community and the world. I also had the opportunity to teach and learn from other youth leading for change around the world. Through all of these experiences, I developed a lens of equity that I continue to use in all aspects of my life.
Beta helped me to realize that I have the power to use my voice to empower others to share their stories. Throughout Beta, I was able to share my personal story with peers and faculty to give everyone insight about microaggressions and implicit bias...I was able to enter college with the knowledge of...how to handle them throughout my everyday life. I will forever be grateful for Beta helping me to not be afraid to be myself and always reminding me to lean towards discomfort.
Beta for me was one of the moments in life where a person starts to see more pieces of the puzzle than they knew existed. I went into the class feeling like I had a pretty good understanding of how the world works and after a week or so I was looking at society in all new angles and seeing the bigger picture, but with more pieces added...the most important thing I took away was the idea that everyone has a story and everyone comes from a different place in life with different experiences.
I wasn't completely sure what I was signing up for when I chose to take BETA my senior year, but it truly was an impactful decision. Truthfully, it's hard to find words to describe the effect and integration BETA has had within my life today. I know I'm a better person, able to acknowledge various perspectives, have a stronger unbiased vocabulary, and every day question things I never noticed before.
Testimonial coming soon
Beta has challenged me to become a leader instead of a follower. I have learned to stand up for what I believe in and to use my voice to advocate for what’s equitable. I have discovered a sense of self love during the past two years. In the beginning I disowned myself to a point where I wanted to be like everyone else. Little did I know, my unique personality traits give me the chance to get ahead in life. I learned to love myself for all I am and to use my lived experience to help others.