Understanding Factors Associated with Intimate Disclosure Between Black Youth and Non-Parental Familial Adults

By: Ariana Rivens

Highlights:


Question: What would you say is the main takeaway from your article?

Rivens: I would say the main takeaway is about non-parental adult relatives and how intentional they are about making space for youth in their lives to disclose. Not only making space, but also staying engaged throughout the disclosure process. The paper describes how these adults encouraged youth to share by creating a positive atmosphere, being really supportive when youth were disclosing, and then, afterwards, taking steps to honor youth disclosing by validating them, giving them advice, and advocating for them. That’s the biggest takeaway—adult relatives play an active role in the process.

Question: You talk about reciprocity and how people may be more willing to share their thoughts and feelings with others who also reveal personal information about themselves. Is this the case in relationships between youths and trusted non-parental adults as well, or is this something that occurs more so between youths and their peers?

Rivens: Yes! In our study, both youth and non-parental adult relatives talked about times when the adults self-disclosed to the adolescent and participated in reciprocal sharing. This was really interesting to us, because adult disclosures were typically age-appropriate and relevant to what youth were sharing. When asked, relatives also talked about being really intentional about making sure that what they shared had the maximum positive impact on youth. They weren’t overburdening the youth by asking them for emotional support or looking to them for advice. It was more along the lines of: “You brought up a topic, so here’s a time that I’ve experienced it growing up” or “Here’s how I’m experiencing it right now as an adult”. It really speaks to what we believe—and research suggests—is one of the key reasons why having non-parental adults in youths’ lives is so helpful. It’s because they can pull on that lived experience and wisdom and can also share how they currently navigate situations. These adult relatives do that not by minimizing what kids are going through, but by emphasizing how this might be something that happens throughout life.

Question: The findings from this study are also incredibly powerful when put into the context of prior research, which, as you mentioned, suggests Black youths’ relationships with natural mentors may be protective of psychological distress associated with racial discrimination. Do you think that youths who lack such relationships face the risk of greater vulnerability to racial discrimination?

Rivens: Previous research suggests adults can be really helpful when youth are experiencing all types of marginalization. We’re focusing on racial discrimination and the effects of racism in this study, but these relationships could be really helpful for other marginalized groups such as LGBTQ youth who might be experiencing rejection or difficulties with their parents. Having a family member or another adult outside act as a buffer against these negative effects from interpersonal issues as well as the more systemic ones. To answer your question more specifically: yes, we know that these supportive relationships have buffering effects against the impact of racism, and we know that youth who experience racism-related stressors in our world and don’t have supportive connections that they can turn to process the event, get support, and to be reminded how important and valued they are, are more likely to feel isolated. While supportive relationships are so important and a rich resource, though, the cumulative adverse impacts of things like racism and other structural inequalities aren’t really offset by having these supportive relationships—that’s not going to solve it all. Even the most supported Black child is at risk for some adverse outcomes based on these issues, so, regardless of their mentor status and whether or not they have these relationships, youth are going to benefit from the dismantling of racism and other inequitable systems.


For more from this Q&A, please see the SRA blog. For more on these research findings, please see the Journal for Research on Adolescence article entitled “Understanding Factors Associated With Intimate Disclosure Between Black Youth and Nonparental Familial Adults.”

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Ariana Rivens (she/her/hers) is a clinical psychology PhD student in the Promoting Healthy Adolescent Development (PHAD) Lab at the University of Virginia. Her clinical and research interests include the mental health of Black youth and emerging adults, supportive intergenerational relationships, and positive institutional climates within higher education

Re-Engaging Youth in Out-of-School Spaces

By: Ashlee Sjogren

Highlights:

  • Engaging students in out-of-school spaces is critical to supporting the whole student. Peers, families, program content, and a fun environment all serve as sources of engagement that programs can optimize on.
  • However, both interpersonal tensions and repetition of content can be reasons that middle school students decide not to engage in afterschool programs.
  • In this blog, we provide recommendations for afterschool stakeholders as they consider how to encourage youth engagement.
Source: Youth-Nex

The role of afterschool and summer learning spaces is perhaps even more critical in our mid-/post-pandemic world than ever before. With the rise of online learning, social isolation, and student mental health issues,[i] afterschool spaces serve as a needed additional support to students’ achievement and development.[ii] However, as we re-embark on in-person learning environments, one question stands out: How do we re-engage students, particularly middle school students from historically marginalized communities[iii], in productive afterschool programs?

Sources

In a recent report of middle school students’ engagement in afterschool programs, students identified three key sources and two key barriers to engagement[iv]:

  1. Program Content – Variety in program content is initially appealing for students who are interested in trying new activities that are not traditionally offered in schools. While some students feel that their afterschool program “is fun because you have activities you would be interested in that you can do, like gym kind of things;” others focus on how afterschool programs expose them to new activities, skills, and classes that they wouldn’t ordinarily get to explore. In this way, afterschool programs can provide space for students to explore new interests, gain new skills, and continue to invest in their personal identity development.
  2. Friends & Family — Personal relationships with peers and family also serve as an additional source of engagement for many students. While many elementary-aged students engage in afterschool spaces because their parents sign them up, middle school students tend to “vote with their feet.” In this way, some may choose to engage based off of parental encouragement whereas others are highly influenced by their peers’ engagement decisions.
  3. Fun Environment – Finally, afterschool spaces are different from school. There are fewer rules, more opportunities for student choice, and ultimately often more fun than a traditional school-day environment. This is critical for many adolescents who are seeking autonomy in their decision-making and opportunities to spend time with peers. If we are seeking to promote afterschool engagement for our middle school students, we must be meeting them with fun environments comprised of various activity options, freedom to select their activities, and opportunities to learn new skills and meet new people.

Barriers

Even in the presence of a well-designed and thoughtful afterschool program, there is still the risk of creating unintentional barriers to adolescent engagement. For example, the following two barriers rose to the surface:

  1. Repetition of Content—Although program content is initially appealing to many middle school students, it can run the risk of developing into a barrier if not adequately differentiated. Students voice that afterschool programs are boring when “we just keep doing the same thing.” Thus, we must not only diversify our course offerings in afterschool spaces but also think critically about keeping the day-to-day content and activities fresh for students.
  2. Interpersonal Tensions – Lastly, given the prominence and importance of peers during early adolescence, it is important that educators are keenly aware of peer relationships. Although the afterschool space provides a unique opportunity for continued engagement amongst peers, it is not immune to the school-day tensions such as name-calling, nagging, and other forms of bullying.  These interpersonal tensions can unintentionally push students out of the afterschool space.

Further, it is important to note students’ experiences with these sources and barriers of engagement varied based on their reported level of engagement.

For example, students who reported lower levels of engagement more often reported interpersonal tensions as a barrier, highlighting how they may be the group most at risk for alienation in educational contexts.

Given this, educators should think critically about the impact of barriers on students who may appear to be on the margins of the program such as those with sporadic attendance.

Moving forward, afterschool educators, parents, and teens can adopt the following suggestions to promote youth engagement across formal and informal learning contexts.

  1. Ramp up family outreach/engagement efforts to ensure families are adequately informed of program offerings.
  2. Provide tangible spaces for student feedback to be voiced, considered, and implemented in day-to-day programming decisions.
  3. Develop leadership opportunities for students such as 1) serving as peer recruiters; 2) serving on a student leadership council; 3) mentoring younger students; and 4) serving as a Teaching Assistant in a course they have mastered.
  4. Adopt a culturally sustaining discipline approach that seeks to solve the root of interpersonal tensions (i.e., CRPBIS, Restorative Practices).
  5. Adopt leveled approaches to programming which allow youth to continually refine their skills over time.
  6. Provide various class opportunities (through community partnerships) and hold program providers accountable to fresh and engaging lesson plans.

Strategies of this sort address adolescents’ need for autonomy and belonging, and further foster their identity exploration. In doing so, they foster spaces that middle school students genuinely desire to engage and promote continued participation.


References

[i] CDC, 2020

[ii] Durlak et al., 2020

[iii] Afterschool Alliance, 2020

[iv] Sjogren et al., 2021


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Ashlee Sjogren, Ph.D. is a post-doctoral research associate at Youth-Nex: Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, University of Virginia. Her research is broadly focused on equitable education both in- and out-of-school. Most recently, Dr. Sjogren has investigated student access and engagement in out-of-school contexts. As an educational psychologist, Dr. Sjogren often brings both a social context and motivation lens to understanding questions of equity, access, and motivation.

Youth Action Lab: Undergraduates Reflect on Leading and Learning with Local Youth

By Anya Pfeiffer, Kennedy Eagle, Olivia Burke, Kate Price, & Alexis Allen

Highlights:

  • Youth Action Lab (YAL) helps young people develop social science research skills to transform their lives and communities.
  • YAL uses a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) framework to engage youth as researchers who systematically explore community issues they care about.
  • In this article, undergraduates serving as mentors in the YAL reflect on their experiences working with local high schoolers to design research studies, gather and analyze data, and take action to address the issues they explored.
Source: Students participating in YAL created this video to explain the YPAR framework.

As Youth and Social Innovation (YSI) majors, we joined Youth Action Lab (YAL) as our community-engaged project for the YSI capstone class, an accumulating applied course required for all seniors in the YSI major. The goal of YAL is to equip young people with research skills to transform their lives and communities.

Youth Participatory Action Research

In YAL, we used a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) framework where youth become researchers, systematically exploring issues that impact their schools and communities. Building on their lived experiences and expertise, our high school students develop research questions, design social science studies, gather and analyze data, and then take action to address the issues they explore. YAL uses a mentor-led approach, where we, as undergraduates at the University of Virginia, teach a YPAR curriculum through interactive lessons tailored to meet each group’s needs and objectives. By building community and promoting equity and inclusion, YAL empowers youth through research and collaboration.

Tackling Virtual Learning

One of our first tasks for YAL was researching best practices for virtual learning. Some strategies we found helpful were using digital collaboration tools and providing opportunities for flexibility and student choice. Collaboration tools (such as using breakout rooms and Padlet) allowed students to work together in smaller groups and participate in interactive experiences.

Allowing students to co-construct our lessons by asking what they’d like to learn or how we could support their project also created a more engaged learning environment. Sometimes, this looked like just showing up to listen and provide a space to discuss current events instead of a lesson. Most importantly, we learned to make a plan but be open to adjusting — extending a meaningful activity or discussion is much more important than doing scheduled activities.

YPAR in Action

We applied our research on virtual learning as we started working with two high school student groups, Charlottesville City Youth Council and Albemarle High School Black Student Union. Throughout the year, our team meets with each group biweekly to help guide them through lessons that support the research process.

Youth Council (YC) decided to explore why some students attend private middle schools instead of Walker and Buford but then return to Charlottesville City Schools for high school. Here are some highlights from their research project:

  • The students created a survey to ask local high school students about their middle school experiences and perceptions of different schools. The survey received over 70 responses.
  • YC is now in the process of interviewing adult stakeholders including parents and school board members. Conducting a mixed methods research project has allowed them gain experience with surveys and interviews and engage with different community stakeholders.
  • By the end of the year, YC will present their research findings to City Council and/or the Charlottesville City School Board. YC hopes their research will push the City to implement more programming to address the stigma around public middle schools.

Our team of facilitators have loved working with this group. They are wise beyond their years and show a high-level understanding of societal issues including classism and racism which they are mindful of in their research.

Black Student Union (BSU) is a student organization focused on sharing and supporting the culture and experiences of Black students at Albemarle High School. During our first meetings, BSU identified several issues at their school and decided to examine the lack of racial/ethnic diversity in Dual Enrollment (DE) and Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Since most BSU students have experienced being one of few Black students in higher-level classes, they had a personal connection to the issue. Here are some highlights from their research project:

  • With support from their principal, BSU recently sent surveys to students, teachers, school counselors, and families and are planning interviews to help identify potential solutions. 
  • One idea they have is a summer program that will serve as a bridge to prepare students to transition to more advanced classes. BSU’s overall goal is to make higher level courses more accessible and ensure students of color are prepared to succeed.
  • BSU plans to present their research findings to the Albemarle High School staff and leadership and are also exploring the possibility of presenting to the Albemarle County School Board.

In addition to conducting this research project, BSU continues to advocate for Black students and has held multiple events for their school community to celebrate Black culture and history. Our team has been beyond impressed by this group of motivated and passionate students.

Final Thoughts

Working with two very different and incredibly inspiring groups of high school students has been such a wonderful opportunity. As YAL facilitators, we teach high schoolers how to frame and investigate real world issues through social science research, but we undoubtedly learned just as much from them about framing and addressing problems in our own lives and communities.


YAL is supported by the Equity Center and Youth-Nex. We are always looking for new partners interested in bringing YPAR to the youth they serve. To learn more about YAL and YPAR resources, please visit our website.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Anya Pfeiffer is a fourth year Youth & Social Innovation Major and a first year candidate for a Master’s of Public Policy and Leadership from the Batten School. After graduation, she hopes to work on education or housing policy.


Author Bio: Olivia Burke is a 4th year Youth and Social Innovation major and Public Policy minor who is passionate about education research. Next year she will pursue her M.Ed. in Quantitative Analytics at UVA. 


Author Bio: Kate Price is a fourth year student majoring in Youth & Social Innovation in the School of Education. She is extremely interested in applying youth developmental frameworks to practical settings which help prompt adolescents to critically reflect, use their voice, and make a difference in their communities. 


Kennedy Eagle and Alexis Allen are also YSI students.

Mentoring Innovations: The Power of Groups

By Nancy Deutsch & Gabe Kuperminc

Highlights:

  • Group mentoring programs can be effective in fostering at least short- term improvements in a broad range of youth outcomes.
  • The multiple types of relationships between and amongst peers and mentors in group mentoring programs contributes to youth’s experiences in, and outcomes from, group mentoring.
  • Limiting the size of the mentoring group (i.e., the ratio of mentors to mentees) and incorporating practices that foster peer support among the mentors can support program quality.
Source: National Mentoring Resource Center

January is National Mentoring Month. When you think about mentoring, you probably picture an adult who has volunteered to take an active and supportive role in a young person’s life. If you’ve heard of programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, you’re probably familiar with the one-on-one approach to mentoring. But whereas one-on-one mentoring programs are widespread, did you know that group mentoring programs actually now serve more youth than one-on-one programs?[i] Group programs come in various shapes and sizes but are differentiated from one-on-one programs in that one or more adults work with multiple youth.

This may sound like a lot of settings you see every day, like after-school clubs, sports teams, or arts programs. Indeed, the basic ingredients for group mentoring exist in many places where multiple youth and one or more adults interact together over time.

But what makes group mentoring different from other programs that involve adults and youth is that it must include intentional mentoring activity and group processes, including meaningful, two-way interactions between one or more mentors and at least two mentees.

Formal programs that match mentors with groups of youth are very popular, with estimates that 35% of youth mentoring programs use a group format and an additional 12% use a combination of one-on-one and group mentoring.[ii] In other group settings, like after-school programs, sports teams, and classrooms, specific efforts may be needed to systematically foster mentoring relationships between the adults and youth.[iii]

In a recent review of group mentoring for the National Mentoring Resource Center, we found three main types of programs:

  1. The first type includes programs in which all activities occur in a group or team-like setting. An example of the first type is a program in San Francisco, CA called Project Arrive, where groups of six to eight students who are vulnerable to dropping out of school meet with mentors each week throughout their 9th grade year to build a sense of belonging in school and a supportive peer network.
  2. The second type of group program blends the popular one-on-one approach to mentoring with group activities. An example of this second type is the Young Women Leaders Program based here at UVA.
  3. The third type of program occurs in existing youth programs, like sports or arts organizations; these programs incorporate intentional elements of mentoring into existing youth programs, and usually include specific training of the adult leaders in topics related to youth development and mentoring and time during the program for explicit mentoring activities.

As group mentoring grows in popularity it is important for researchers and practitioners alike to be attuned to both the potentials of this program format for supporting young people, and also the recommendations that have been identified by the field so far for best practices (see, for example, the recently published supplement to the Elements of Effective Practice for Group Mentoring). In terms of the potential of such programs to have a positive impact on young people, our review uncovered evidence that group mentoring programs can be effective in fostering at least short- term improvements in a broad range of youth outcomes, including those in the behavioral, academic, emotional, and attitudinal/motivational domains. Evidence of longer-term effects is still limited. It should also be noted that there is limited evidence on incorporated programs, as most research has focused on conventional or blended group mentoring programs.

In terms of who benefits the most from group mentoring, our review found some isolated evidence suggesting that group mentoring is particularly effective for youth exposed to higher risk, but group mentoring appears to be potentially effective for youth from a variety of backgrounds.

Program effectiveness may be influenced by the socioemotional and relationship skills and histories that mentors bring to the program, and group facilitation skills is an important additional skill for mentors in group programs. Two features of programs that appear to be important for program quality include limiting the size of the mentoring group, or the ratio of mentors to mentees, and incorporating practices that foster peer support among the mentors.

Group mentoring shares many features of more traditional mentoring programs, but what makes group programs unique is the presence of peers and, often, multiple mentors. This allows for multiple types of relationships between and among mentors and peers that can contribute to youth’s experiences in, and outcomes from, group mentoring. In addition, attributes of the group, such as cohesion and belonging, mutual help, and a sense of group identity, may also contribute to youth outcomes. Researchers and practitioners are often concerned with the potential for negative outcomes, or “negative contagion effects,” particularly when youth exposed to significant risk are grouped together. Our review found that the potential for negative contagion in group mentoring programs does exist, but the presence of strong group facilitators and training for mentors in group programs, as well as intentional planning of assignment of mentees to groups, helps guard against negative consequences. Overall, group mentoring appears to be a promising approach to extend the reach of mentoring to a larger number of youth (and maybe even at a lower cost) than one-on-one mentoring, and to open up new avenues for promoting important skills and social connections that young people need.


Citations

[i] Garringer, M., McQuillin, S., & McDaniel, H. (2017). Examining Youth Mentoring Services Across America: Findings from the 2016 National Mentoring Program Survey. MENTOR The National Mentoring Partnership.

[ii] Garringer, M., McQuillin, S., & McDaniel, H. (2017). Examining Youth Mentoring Services Across America: Findings from the 2016 National Mentoring Program Survey. MENTOR The National Mentoring Partnership.

[iii] Banister, E. M., & Begoray, D. L. (2006). A community of practice approach for Aboriginal girls’ sexual health education. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry / Journal de l’Académie Canadienne de Psychiatrie de l’enfant et de l’adolescent, 15, 168–173.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Nancy Deutsch is the director of Youth-Nex, the UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development at the School of Education & Human Development. She is a Professor of Research, Statistics & Evaluation and Applied Developmental Science and is also affiliated with the Youth & Social Innovation (YSI) Program. Deutsch’s research examines the socio-ecological contexts of adolescent development, particularly issues related to identity. She has focused on the role of after-school programs and relationships with important adults, and is especially interested in the process of adolescent learning and development as it unfolds within local environments for better understanding about how to create settings that better support youth, especially those at risk due to economic or sociocultural factors.

Author Bio: Gabe Kuperminc is Professor of Psychology and Public Health and Chair of the Community Psychology Doctoral Program at Georgia State University. His research focuses on 1) understanding processes of resilience and positive youth development in adolescence and 2) evaluating the effectiveness of community-based prevention and health promotion programs. He is studying the effectiveness of innovative approaches to youth mentoring, including group mentoring and combining mentoring with other youth development approaches (projects funded by the Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention). He also works with youth-serving non-profit organizations at local, state, and national levels, studying the effectiveness of prevention and youth development programs. A common thread in his work is an interest in understanding how cultural factors play a role in developmental processes and health behavior.

Measuring Key Processes in Youth Mentoring

By Julia Augenstern

Highlights:

  • Mentoring programs are essential resources in many communities and one of the best supported approaches for fostering positive youth development.
  • However, despite a long record of empirical support for their positive impact, little is known about how mentoring benefits are rendered or the specific processes by which mentoring relationships work.
  • Presented here is recent work to help assess five key mentoring processes with the hope that when used this survey can reveal what makes some mentoring programs more effective than others.

Over the past 30 years, there have been numerous studies that show mentoring can help reduce youth risk of substance use, school failure and delinquency, and can increase their sense of support, connection, and self-efficacy. Not all programs show these benefits, with some even showing null or negative impacts. The question still remains:

What makes some programs beneficial and how do these benefits occur?

This requires looking into the processes that make up mentoring interactions; to understand the “how” of mentoring. Through reviewing theoretical and practical literature on mentoring we identified a set of 5 processes that were commonly mentioned as occurring within mentoring relationship and developed an assessment tool to capture them (See the original research article in the Journal of Community Psychology at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcop.22408).

Five Key Mentoring Processes

The follow five mentoring processes are measured by the Mentoring Process Scale (MPS):

  • Role Modeling – Activities and discussions that provide the mentee opportunity to experience the mentor as a role model or figure of identification, those in which the effect may be to evoke admiration, respect, felt positive similarity and connection, or emulation.
  • Advocacy – A process by which the mentor speaks up for or supports the mentee to others, connects the protégé with resources, and/or helps the mentee seek and access skills and opportunities, helping support navigation of social systems.
  • Relationship and Emotional Support – Instances where the mentor provides open and genuine positive regard and companionship to the mentee in ways that would be expected to lead the mentee to feel supported and cared for by the mentor. This process is characterized by regular and open communication, with empathy and/or reciprocity prominent.
  • Teaching and Information Provision – A process by which the mentor teaches new things to the mentee and/or provides information that might aid the mentee in managing social, educational, legal, family, and peer challenges.
  • Shared Activity – The mentor and mentee engage in activities together (e.g., cooking, playing sports, going out to eat, watching tv) or simply spend time together.
Click here to see the large PDF.

Our goal was to capture and understand these processes from both the adult mentor and youth mentee perspectives. Our study validated these five components as distinct and important factors making up the overall scale and showed that these processes relate to other important characteristics of effective mentoring, when rated by adult mentors. For youth, the items formed as a single general positive mentoring activity scale.

We think the scale can help reveal how mentoring works, what differentiates effective and ineffective mentoring, and what might be important training targets and skills for mentors.

This scale also has promise to help address inequities in access to quality mentoring. Presently, too often, the quality of mentoring available is dependent on economic and social resources, with little guidance on critical components of the mentoring relationship. If we can learn what makes mentoring effective, then training can concentrate on those skills and activities. The scale and the practices it measures can be used to help guide initial and ongoing training. It can also be used to highlight if and how mentors might be applying learned skills in their daily work with mentees. By better understanding the mechanisms of positive influences, disparities in mentoring program quality can be better identified and remediated, thus ensuring a greater likelihood for successful mentoring impacts across communities.

Mentoring in COVID-19

Finally, in a world of physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, mentoring programs must adapt to new ways of engaging youth. They must find ways to successfully maintain the mentoring relationship and address new and unique needs of youth and communities. By considering what processes to emphasize and assessing variation in engagement and outcome as different ones are emphasized, we can learn how to ensure effective mentoring in these new circumstances. These five key processes can be helpful in guiding program adaptation to ensure that important components of the mentoring relationship are still maintained, regardless of the modality through which contact is made.


For more information about this research and the MPS, please see:

Tolan, P. H., McDaniel, H. L., Richardson, M., Arkin, N., Augenstern, J., & DuBois, D. L. (2020). Improving understanding of how mentoring works: Measuring multiple intervention processes. Journal of Community Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcop.22408

or contact Patrick Tolan, Ph.D. at pht6t@virginia.edu


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Julia Augenstern, M.Ed. is a fourth year doctoral student in the Curry School of Education and Human Services Clinical and School Psychology Program. She studies positive youth development and social emotional learning in a Youth Nex affiliate lab and is a recent Curry Innovative, Developmental, Exploratory Awards (IDEAs) grant recipient.

Reflections on Youth Voice, this Historical Moment, and Dialoging for Democracy

By Symia Stigler & Kaitlin Nichols

Highlights:

  • After attending the Dialoging for Democracy conference, members of City Year national staff reflect on the last eight months.
  • Lifting up youth’s voices and allowing them to speak their truths is essential, especially in the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Supporting young people’s voices leads to transformative citizenship, even in the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: City Year

In November of 2019, Youth-Nex hosted a conference on “Dialoging for Democracy: Youth Moral Reasoning and Social Justice” in Charlottesville, VA. I was thrilled to be attending with three City Year colleagues and looked forward to exploring how the topic might support and stretch our service ideas rooted in social justice and transformative citizenship. 

What we did not know when we entered the double doors of the UVA Alumni Hall is that in the subsequent 195 days, George Floyd would be killed and that killing would be recorded and replayed on television, social media and in the minds of every conscious human. The shock and horror after 8 minutes and 46 seconds and the last cries of “I can’t breathe” stunned the world. However, this time, in place of recurring silence and deliberately closed eyes, thundering masses of citizens across the globe raised their collective voices and loudly proclaimed, “Black Lives Matter!”  

Given our current social and physical reality, the conference topic from eight months earlier, “Dialoging for Democracy”, still resonates with me, as does the words of the organizers who spoke at the conference.  

During the welcome, Dr. Johari Harris, a Research Assistant Professor at the Curry School of Education and Human Development asked, “How do youth process complex moral and social issues?” She asked attendees to consider how that processing changes as young people grow and develop. Over the course of two days panelists, youth and community organizers shared examples from research, policy, and practice to address these grounding questions. At the conclusion, Dr. Harris reiterated that…

The best way to support positive youth development in African American adolescents is through a strength-based approach which builds on their cultural backgrounds, while keeping their powerful and unique voices at the forefront of the conversation.  

In my role as national director of student engagement at City Year, I design and pilot social-emotional learning and development (SEL/D) resources that our City Year AmeriCorps Members use every day in their work as near-peer mentors. AmeriCorps Members partners with teachers to co-create positive learning environments and customize small group tutoring sessions for students in systemically under-resourced schools. Our SEL/D supports are grounded in relationships, which I believe are the most powerful lever in K-12 education. The trust and connections built between students and AmeriCorps Members, over time, prove fertile soil for social-emotional and academic growth. Each day of the school year, City Year AmeriCorps members support students as they lift their voices and speak their truths. When young people engage as equal contributors in classrooms and communities, their voices are elevated, their courage is unveiled, and their perspective and perpetual energy create momentum, demanding positive change in our world.  

-Symia Stigler, National Director of Student Engagement, City Year


Source: City Year

Having served as a City Year AmeriCorps member, I have seen firsthand the amazing things that can come from young people’s voices being at the table.

  • I saw it when a group of 7th grade students had the great idea to host a city-wide toy drive for the local children’s hospital and had their City Year team help make it happen.
  • I saw it when we heard our students wanting to do lessons in the concrete courtyard by our classroom, so we led a service project with the students to plant flowers, paint benches, and beautify the courtyard.
  • I saw it when we created interactive bulletin boards outside our classroom that students could add their voices to connected with a monthly theme – anything from honoring a loved one impacted by breast cancer, to writing a valentine for a Black person in history who made a difference in our world, to sharing tips for self-care leading up to the next standardized test.
  • I saw it in the one-on-one relationships, when my teammate worked closely with one of her students to help him apply for summer jobs he was interested in, and when my other teammate intentionally gave special attention to her student suffering the recent loss of her younger brother.
  • I saw it when my students helped me understand how to best meet their learning needs: when one student shared that using different colors helped her concentrate, we worked on reading comprehension with lots of highlighters; and when another student shared he preferred to read over breakfast, we ate together before discussing what we read.

And I’ve been seeing it now – when schools closed abruptly in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, our City Year AmeriCorps members stepped up to creatively connect with their students in the virtual space. Our young adult leaders have continued supporting these near-peer relationships by replicating viral video dances, recording videos assuring their students that they are still thinking of them, and coming up with thoughtful prompts and activities for students to engage in distance learning.

Participating in the Dialoging for Democracy conference alongside my City Year colleagues was a rich learning experience, and it was affirming to be able to hear from researchers and practitioners about the evidence base for the activities our young adult leaders are doing with their students every day. Now more than ever, it is important it is to uplift, celebrate, and listen to the voices of our young people – and embrace all the good that can come from it.

-Kaitlin Nichols, Sr. Impact Services Operations Manager, City Year
City Year Alumni ‘13, ‘14


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Symia Stigler brings over twenty years of field experience from education and youth-serving non-profits to her role as National Student Engagement Director at City Year Headquarters. In this position, Symia leads our work on upgrading or improving the network-wide Attendance, Social-Emotional/Youth Development, and After School tools and strategies. Symia is motivated by the power of relationships which are leveraged to forge new paths towards social justice in education.

Author Bio: Kaitlin Nichols currently serves as the Senior Impact Services Operations Manager at City Year Headquarters in Boston, managing operations and projects for our national group of program departments. Prior to joining City Year staff, Kaitlin completed two years of service with City Year Columbia as an AmeriCorps Member and Team Leader, serving middle and elementary school students across two school districts in South Carolina.  

The Inside of Mentoring

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Youth-Nex director Patrick Tolan, talks about “What Works in Mentoring?” at the recent YN Works In Progress meeting.

Reported by Youth-Nex Editors

Patrick H. Tolan is professor at the University of Virginia in the Curry School of Education and in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences in the School of Medicine. He is director of the cross-University multidisciplinary center, Youth-Nex: The U.Va. Center to Promote Effective Youth Development.

Audio and slides are posted here.

Background, Questions, and Definitions

For 20 years we have known that mentoring can be beneficial, yet we still do not know much about what causes these benefits. Tolan discussed his study, the first meta-analysis to look at the processes inside mentoring.

What difference do mentoring activities like modeling, teaching, emotional support, and advocacy make? Is all mentoring positive?

Knowing how such programs work is important. Some popular social programs thrive and continue to receive funding despite the fact that they fail at producing the desired results. At the same time, we can spend 10 years doing empirical studies which do produce results. Despite this, we don’t fund or create programs based on proven interventions. Mentoring works and it is popular, so it’s important to learn how it works. Continue reading

Of Robots and Mentors

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This team, repairing their robot between matches, received a “low dosage” of mentoring.

According to Curry Science Education doctoral student, Nathan Dolenc, mentors affect student development in countless ways, both positively and perhaps not-so-positively. 

Dolenc’s research examines adult mentoring styles on high school robotics teams. He is looking at how mentors define their own involvement, and how students respond under their mentors’ defined involvement and approaches.

He is also considering an investigation about the implications that these mentor-student interactions have on the students’ long-term growth. This entry specifically addresses low-dosage mentoring.

By Nathan Dolenc, Doctoral Student, in Curry’s Science Education, Curriculum & Instruction.

Continue reading