International Falls Youth Leadership Program 1999-2000 (Grade Contract Completion) : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Karen Sue Rigdon

Masters of Education

Spring 2000

International Falls Youth Leadership Program 1999-2000

Many studies have demonstrated the impact that mentoring can have on young people to give them an inside track to a successful life. Fortune Magazine states, The number one indicator of success for a child is a good relationship with a caring adult. The 1989 Louis Harris Poll discovered that 73% of students that had mentors said that their mentors helped raise their goals and expectations. In this poll, 59% of mentored students improved their grades. The Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America 1995 Impact Study showed that young people with mentors were:

 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs

 27% less likely to begin using alcohol

 53% less likely to skip school

 33% less likely to hit someone

A study done in 1988 by Proctor and Gamble on mentoring programs in Cincinnati schools showed that young people with mentors were more likely to:

 stay in school

 attend class

 achieve and aspire to better grades

 go on to college

The bottom line is most evident- mentoring youth empowers them. Telling and showing youth that we believe in them can make a dramatic difference in their lives. At the January 2000 training session, for volunteer community mentors involved with the 1999-2000 International Falls Youth Leadership Program, psychologist Julie Streif said that the one thing that can make a powerful difference to kids is a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. Never doubt or minimize the impact you can make on a kid, Streif encouraged.

International Falls, Minnesota was chosen to be one of the communities to pilot an initiative by the Northland Foundation. The contemporary year-long youth leadership and mentoring program, funded by the Blandin Foundation, targets a diverse group of junior high school students showing leadership potential but not necessarily having high self-esteem or self-confidence. The goal of this effort is to prepare young people to be active, engaged leaders in their schools and communities with the support of adults mentors.

Once a month, throughout the school year, the youth and community mentors involved in this program met for two-hour workshops. The mentors and students committed to attend over 30 hours dedicated to workshops, training, and community service planning and projects. Program topics included conflict resolution / problem solving, team building, understanding government and community history, technology in industry, and service project planning and implementation.

Fall / Winter 1999 workshops, launched with a weekend retreat at a local resort, taught the youth personal skills through a reflective questioning process. They had to define what being a leader meant to them, list who they thought were todays leaders, and write down the benefits and burdens of being a leader. They also identified some common myths of leading. Another session was geared to introduce listening skills, sending skills, the importance of focusing on process, and the concept of shared meaning in communication.

On March 16, 2000 the twenty-eight students, seventeen community mentors, and four facilitators focused on team building for the evening  after a spaghetti and meatball dinner and lots of chocolate chip cookies. The message centered on the concept that there is no I in team work - the focal point being the team and not the individuals. Students were advised to think out of the box and remember that creativity is necessary for productive teamwork. Three lively team activities were done to serve as physical metaphors for giving a little, supporting each other, and all chipping in to accomplish a task.

Understanding Government, the topic for the April 6th workshop, did not appear to be one of the sessions that the students were looking forward to. Personally, I wondered how this topic could capture my attention. Lory Fedo, President/CEO of the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce, surprised everyone with her agenda. The students and mentors were divided into four groups and told to pick out the clothing of their choice from several large laundry baskets. The clothing, ranging from wild wigs and miniskirts to business suits, was selected by Fedo to represent people from diverse walks of life. The various peoples then met at a caucus, voted on their party name, developed their platform, and chose candidates. Next, each group organized a campaign rally and speech for their candidate. The goal was to have the winning candidate but you could not vote for your own party. This learning method was highly festive, there was lots of laughter, and everyone gained some basic knowledge concerning political process while having a grand time.

The community service project, which is yet to be determined, will be implemented at the end of May. Prior to this there are two scheduled planning sessions that will total to approximately five hours. Traditionally, part of the allotted preparation time is spent feasting upon the favorite cuisine of young teens, a critical component of the process.

There will be an early summer celebration activity with the young leaders, mentors, and facilitators to close the program. According to Lynn Haglin, Northland Foundation vice president and Kids Plus director, International Falls is an outstanding example of a community that is capturing the energy of young people and establishing positive channels for youth involvement in community. I was honored to have been asked to be a mentor in this program and I learned valuable lessons along with an incredible group of young teens and inspiring adult leaders.

-- Anonymous, April 29, 2000

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